November 21, 2010

Saints thrash Seahawks in pass-happy battle in the Dome, 34-19

The Saints defeated the Pete Carroll in the Superdome on Sunday in a game that was hard-hitting and featured 748 combined passing yards from two red-hot quarterbacks.

Saints QB Drew Brees (29/43, 4TD, 2 Int, 382 yards) and Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck (32/44, 1TD, 366 yards) both lit up the Superdome turf.  The difference in this game turned out to be an impressive showing by the Saints' ground game and two second half fumbles by Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch.

It was Brees' 35th 300-yard passing game as a Saint, a game where he also broke Archie Manning's franchise record for pass completions. 

The Saints rode RB Chris Ivory to 65 first half rushing yards, including a 24-yard blast around right end that set up his one-yard touchdown leap two plays later to put the Saints on the board.  The Saints collected four first downs on the ground in the first half.

The Seahawks on the other hand collected all ten of their first half first downs on the sometimes erratic arm of Matt Hasselbeck.  Lynch and backup RB Justin Forsett combined for six first half rushing yards against the Saints.

The Saints found themselves up 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, and then a second quarter scoring explosion would put the Saints up for good.

The Seahawks were forced to settle for two Olindo Mare field goals, the first set up by one of two long passes where Saints CB Jabari Greer was beat deep.  The Seahawks would also complete a 12-play, 69 yard, 3:54 drive where Hasselbeck dropped back to pass nine straight plays, hitting seven of nine passes for 64 yards, all of them short underneath routes.  Hasselbeck capped the drive with a two-yard pass to WR Ben Obomanu, who snuck free and wide open in the back of the end zone behind a blitzing Saints goal line formation.   

But Brees would counter Hasselbeck every step in the second quarter.  He hit Colston twice at the goal line on seam routes, throwing the ball high and allowing Colston to out-rebound helpless defenders.  Between then, a scrambling Brees hit Robert Meachem with a short dart thrown right over the middle from three yards out.  The Saints completed touchdown drives of 10, 8 and 5 plays all in the second quarter.

To end the second quarter, Hasselbeck had his team moving again inside the two minute warning, but a holding penalty on Chester Pitts and an intentional grounding call on Hasselbeck, when pressured by a Saints blitz, moved the Seahawks back to the Saint 43.  Hasselbeck hit Brandon Stokely (6/76), for an 18 yard gain and Mare hit the 43-yarder as time expired.

Up 27-16 at the half, the Saints had outgained the Seahawks 280-250, but Hasselbeck had accounted for 244 of those yards passing.

The Saints opened the third quarter by jumping right on the Seahawks, cashing in on a six play, 80-yard drive when a streaking Meachem hauled in a 32-yard pass.  With a 34-16 lead, the Saints defense continued to employ umbrella coverage, yielding anything that Hasselbeck wanted underneath but not allowing any downfield strikes that had burned the Saints in the first half.  Hasselbeck hit WR Mike Williams for 68 yards and Obomanu for 42 yards to set up Mare field goals in the second half.

The Seahawks would not complete a pass more than 13 yards in the second half.  Two Seahawk drives in the third quarter were snuffed out by fumbles forced from Lynch's arms.  Both Roman Harper and Scott Shanle recorded a FF-FR combination near midfield.

But the Saints wouldn't do much better either.  Following their half-opening touchdown drive, they moved to the Seahawk 4 only to see Brees throw an interception right to LB David Hawthorne at the goal line.  On their next drive, Brees moved to the Seahawk 9 thanks to an unbelievable highlight catch by WR Lance Moore, who hauled in a deep pass with one hand, tiptoeing the sideline for a 29 yard gain.  But Hartley missed the chipshot field goal, throwing the Saints' kicker position into flux again.  Both high-powered offenses had lost back-to-back drives on their own mistakes.

The Seahawk's next drive lasted 7:02 over 15 plays but was stopped cold at the Saint two yard line.  The Saints nearly snuffed this drive out with a turnover as well, but replay review overturned a Tracy Porter interception.  But with first and goal at the six, the Saints stopped Lynch three straight times and forced another Mare field goal, ending scoring at 34-19.

The Seahawk's bid for an onside kick recovery was nullified when S Lawyer Milloy was the first member of his team to touch the ball, but he had stepped out of bounds before doing so. 

With 5:24 left up 15 points, the Saints got the ball back and burned clock in an eventful drive.  Chris Ivory appeared to have fumbled on the first snap, but referees ruled he was down. A replay challenge by Carroll upheld the ruling.

Two plays later, former Seahawk Julius Jones, now a member of the Saints' backup runningback committee, bolted up the middle and to the right pylon for an apparent 36-yard touchdown blast, flying over the pylon in dramatic fashion.  But a holding penalty on Jahri Evans stole Jones' credit for sweet revenge, setting up 3rd and 14.  Brees found Colston over the middle, expertly shielding the defender from the pass for a 15-yard gain, and the drive was extended.

After each of the next two rushes for short gain, the Seahawks called their final two timeouts, setting up 3rd and 8 with 2:54 left for the Saints.  An encroachment penalty, then a 12-yard gain by fourth string TE Tory Humphrey on his first catch of the season extended the drive again.  Three rushes by Ivory appeared to sap the rest of the clock away, but on fourth down at the Seahawk 8 yard line, with 23 seconds left, the Saints rolled out for a pass.

Perhaps Payton was rubbed raw by Carroll's early timeouts and replay challenge.  Perhaps Payton wanted to give his team a big momentum boost by twisting the neck of his already-slain prey.  Perhaps he wanted to get a pass to the neglected Devery Henderson, the Saints' deep speed threat who had been thrown to only once all game, and only 11times in the past four games. 

Regardless of the reason, Brees, sitting patiently in the pocket, fired an timed pass was intercepted by S Earl Thomas in the end zone, a very awkward ending to an otherwise blowout victory.

Ironically, Mare, cut by the Saints after a dismal 2007 season, was perfect on four field goal attempts, twice from 20 yards and twice on 43 yards.  Hartley missed from 27 yards out, nailing the left upright, on a snap and hold that was described as "good" by Sean Payton.  Hartley this season has now missed two of four on field-goal attempts inside 30 yards.  Together with the new long snapper, the Saints could switch out two thirds of their kicking specialists by Thursday's Thanksgiving game in Dallas.

Ivory would rush the ball 13 times in the second half, but only for 34 more yards.  The Saints rushed the ball 16 times to 18 passes in the second half despite a big lead.

Injury notes: The Seahawks were brutalized, losing WR Mike Williams, DL Kentwan Balmer, G Chester Pitts and CB Marcus Trufant to injuries at some point in the game.  Saints DE Will Smith and MLB Marvin Mitchell picked up injuries but appear to be okay...

Saints RB Reggie Bush wrote after the game, "Great team win today! Couldn't be more proud of my guys. Looking to get back on the field against Dallas next week"

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