SEATTLE — How in the world does a universally admired team like the New Orleans Saints fall apart like it did on Sunday?
And how does an unremarkable outfit like the Seattle Seahawks, rife with flaws, step up and smite the dragon?
There’s no single answer. Just a compilation of bits and pieces that converged at QWest Field to defy all the probabilities.
1. Nothing To Lose
Yeah, the Seahawks had qualified for the playoffs with the worst record in history, but that became a powerful weapon within the team.
There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose. Once they started having some success on offence, even after falling behind 10-0 and 17-7, the belief spread like wildfire through the team.
2. Big Plays
No underdog can ever win a game without creating big plays. Football is all about big plays and teams like the Seahawks rarely make enough of them.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tossed four TD passes, two of them from long range.
Marshawn Lynch ran 67 yards for a score just when it looked as if the Saints might be imposing their will on the game.
And on defence, the Seahawks stopped the Saints three times inside the five yard line, creating field goals instead of touchdowns.
3. Home Field
It’s doubtful Seattle could have pulled this off on the road, but QWest Field is one of the most inhospitable places in sport.
Given even the hint of an upset, the Seahawks legendary “12th Man” can be a powerful force and they were just that all day.
The more plays the Seahawks made, the more excited the crowd became.
Those factors aside, the Seahawks needed the Saints themselves to be witless co-conspirators to pull this off and in their wildest dreams they couldn’t have hoped for more co-operation, from the attitude to the execution to the game planning.
The Saints will vehemently deny it because no professional team, especially one that has so recently achieved the ultimate prize, wants to be labelled that way.
That said, it seems the New Orleans defence didn’t learn anything from its earlier meeting with the Seahawks, when Hasselbeck pushed the Saints up and down the field like they were on castors.
Seattle lost that game, but they rolled up more than 400 yards of offence, 366 through the air.
“I think we might have taken for granted the success they had throwing against us earlier in the season,” safety Darren Sharper said.
The Saints defensive backfield gave up a half-dozen big plays, as one receiver after another got in behind the coverage and made it look easy.
2. No Pressure
The Saints didn’t sack Hasselbeck even once. They occasionally got some pressure inside, but they were never able to create any mismatches at the line of scrimmage. The defensive co-ordinator has created a big reputation for himself as a blitz-master, but for some unfathomable reason he went with a three- or four-man rush all day.
3. Can’t Run, Can’t Stop It
Everybody in the stadium knew the Saints weren’t going to be able to run the ball, but Drew Brees has lived with that all season. Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas were unavailable. Julius Jones scored a couple of touchdowns, but both he and the ineffective Reggie Bush were injured in the second half.
Worse, though, was New Orleans’ inability to stop the Seahawks from establishing a ground game. Seattle rushed for 150 yards on the ground, but that number by itself means nothing.
At crunch time, with the game on the line, the Saints embarrassed themselves when just about everybody on the field put a hand on Lynch but couldn’t bring him down, as he ran into Seattle football lore.
This thing came right out of the blue.
For lightning to strike twice is a little much to ask.
“It’s a whole new season,” Seahawks corner Kelly Jennings said.
“We believe. Why not us?”