Seahawks outlast Saints to advance in NFL playoffs
Marshawn Lynch (C) of the Seattle Seahawks runs the ball against Corey White (L) and Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints during their NFC Divisional Playoff Game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington, on January 11, 2014
The Seahawks denied a late comeback bid by Saints quarterback Drew Brees and moved within one victory of their first trip to the Super Bowl since losing to Pittsburgh in 2006.
"It's only a first step but it's a hell of a first step," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Seattle, which went 13-3 this season to earn a playoff home-field edge and a first-round bye, will host the winner of Sunday's Carolina-San Francisco game on January 19 in the National Conference final for a Super Bowl berth.
"We haven't done anything yet," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Our goal is to win the whole thing."
New England was set to host Indianapolis in an American Conference matchup later Saturday with that winner to face either Denver or San Diego in next week's American Conference final for the other Super Bowl spot.
On a windy and rainy day, the Seahawks took support from their notoriously loud fans and improved to 16-1 at home in the past two seasons.
Lynch, who carried the ball 28 times, scored on a 15-yard run in the second quarter and Steven Hauschka kicked field goals of 26, 38 and 49 yards to give the Seahawks a 16-0 half-time lead.
That was the same score entering the fourth quarter, the Seahawks' NFL-best scoring defense leaving the Saints without a point through three quarters for the first time since 2002.
"Our defense was relentless the whole game," Wilson said. "That's what it takes to win."
Khiry Robinson scored on a 1-yard run for the Saints and Mark Ingram ran for a 2-point conversion to halve the Seattle lead with 13:11 remaining.
The Seahawks answered with a late drive capped by Lynch's 31-yard touchdown run with 2:40 to play for a 23-8 lead.
Brees marched the Saints 80 yards in nine plays and flipped a 9-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston with 26 seconds remaining and Colston recovered an onside kick to give New Orleans a chance to win the game.
But Colston attempted an illegal forward pass after a reception three plays later and that penalty resulted in the final seconds being taken off the clock.
Brees completed 24-of-43 passes for 309 yards while Colston had 11 catches for 144 yards.