Saints sunk in Seattle
The Seattle Seahawks moved just one game away from the Super Bowl as Marshawn Lynch again starred to help dump New Orleans Saints out of the play-offs in a 23-15 victory.
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Seattle shocked then-champions New Orleans in the play-offs three years ago with Lynch at the heart of it, and again he proved to be a catalyst with 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns as the now favoured Seahawks move on to the NFC Championship game.
In front of a ferocious home crowd that will again give them a huge advantage in the NFC title game next week, Seattle's defence was also the star as they dominated Drew Brees and the Saints offence in the first half as they opened up a 16-0 lead.
Brees threatened a comeback as he led a drive that ended in a Khiry Robinson one-yard TD run, and the Saints' defence played superb themselves until Lynch's 31-yard run looked to have sealed the game with just under three minutes left.
However, Brees fired a TD strike to Marques Colston with 32 seconds left, and when the Saints then recovered the on-side kick they still had an outside chance, but it came to nothing and Seattle advanced to a home NFC title clash with either Carolina or San Francisco.
The Saints started the game in the worst possible way as they were forced to punt after a quick three-and-out, but Thomas Morstead fumbled the catch and then shanked his kick just 16 yards to give Seattle the ball on the 40.
New Orleans' defence stood firm and Seattle had to settle for a field goal, but after a decent drive the Saints couldn't follow suit as Shayne Graham missed from 45 yards out as the visitors came away from a 53-yard drive empty handed.
Steven Hauschka kicked Seattle 6-0 in front on their next drive, before their now infamous defence made a big impact on the game as Michael Bennett smashed into Robinson and forced a fumble, before recovering the ball himself.
Seattle's 40th turnover of the season gave them the ball on the 24-yard line, and it took them just two plays to find the end zone with Lynch rumbling right up the middle, through at least three tacklers, before crossing for the touchdown.
With the usually prolific Brees struggling badly to throw the ball, the Saints then turned the ball over on downs after going for it on fourth down when deciding against a likely field goal - and that allowed Hauschka to later kick Seattle into a 16-0 half-time lead.
With a career-low 34 passing yards at the half, things could only improve for Brees - and his first three passes yielded almost as much yardage, but a promising drive was ended by that Seattle defence again as Brees was sacked to knock the team out of field goal range.
New Orleans finally got something going at the start of the fourth quarter as Brees took them 74 yards on a nine-play drive - but it was the running game that sealed it as rookie Robinson rumbled in from a yard out.
The Saints needed three tries to punch it in against a defence that hadn't allowed a rushing TD in nine games, but after they crossed Mark Ingram then ran in the two-point conversion to half the deficit at 16-8.
A huge slice of luck went the Saints' way on their next drive, when a long throw from Brees was tipped by Earl Thomas as he looked to have an interception but only bobbled the ball into Robert Meachem's hands for a 52-yard gain.
They couldn't convert that though, and this time coach Sean Payton opted for a 48-yard field goal, but again Graham fluffed his lines as he pulled it horribly wide left as he tried to give it something extra kicking into the wind.
Lynch then produced a 31 yard effort into the end zone that looked to have sealed the game, before Brees hit Colston and they recovered an onside kick to cause a few flutters - but Seattle saw it out.