All together now—worst playoff team ever! For the sub-.500 Hawks, the season starts now
Lawyer Milloy knows what you're thinking: The Seahawks, after losing seven of their final 10 and making the playoffs with a 7--9 record, have no shot at beating the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the NFC wild-card game on Saturday in Seattle. But the 15-year veteran safety also knows postseason history. "Once you get in the playoffs you have as good a chance of winning as the 11 other teams," says Milloy. "We've got a very young team that's figuring it out. Everybody knows that sometimes it's the team that gets hot at the end that wins it. So why not us?"
Critics could point to abundant reasons. The Seahawks, the first team of the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs with a losing record in a nonstrike year, surpassed 100 yards rushing just six times, were held to two or fewer offensive touchdowns 12 times, surrendered 31 or more points eight times and tied for 27th in turnover differential, at -9. But Milloy is right: Seattle should not be dismissed with the wave of a hand. In 2004 the Rams and the Vikings barely scratched into the postseason with 8--8 records, yet each team won its first game. San Diego was 8--8 in 2008 and beat Indianapolis in the wild-card round. That same year the Cardinals, considered by some to be the worst postseason qualifier in history after they'd lost four of their final six regular-season games and allowed at least 35 points in each defeat, came within 35 seconds of a Super Bowl title.
First-year Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says he won't use the criticism as motivation. He'll focus instead on more immediate factors, such his defense, which had surrendered 33 or more points in seven of nine games before holding the Rams to two field goals in Sunday's division-clinching 16--6 win.
On offense, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is expected to be ready for the playoffs after being held out of the finale with a hip injury. (Replacement Charlie Whitehurst did just enough to earn his first win as a starter.) Hasselbeck had his best game of the season in a 34--19 loss in New Orleans on Nov. 21, completing 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
The Seahawks could be facing New Orleans at the right time. The Saints, who've never won a road playoff game, are not only traveling cross-country in a short week but are also dealing with health issues. Leading rusher Chris Ivory (foot), starting safety Malcolm Jenkins (knee) and tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) all left Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay with injuries. Running back Pierre Thomas (ankle) and wideout Marques Colston (arthroscopic knee surgery) did not play.
Even so, the Seahawks say the key is to focus on themselves instead of the Saints. "Before Sunday it was pretty hard to figure out who we were as a team," Milloy says. "It's been such an up-and-down year, people coming and going. We're starting to find our identity. What better stage to do it on than the playoffs?"
HOW TO BEAT THE SEAHAWKS
Seattle's offensive line has been in flux all season, and rookie left tackle Russell Okung is battling a chronic ankle sprain. If New Orleans can keep the lid on the Seahawks' running attack—which shouldn't be hard, as Seattle averaged just 89.0 yards a game, second worst in the league—it could force Matt Hasselbeck (or Charlie Whitehurst) into turnovers.
Vertical passing is the easiest way to attack the Seahawks' defense. Seattle allowed 60 pass plays of 20 yards or longer, second most in the NFL, including a league-high 14 for touchdowns. That bodes especially well for the visiting Saints, who were fifth in the league with 10 scoring passes of at least 20 yards.
How NFC fourth seeds have fared since 1990
0 Won Super Bowl
1 Lost Super Bowl
0 Lost conference championship game
13 Lost in divisional round
6 Lost in wild-card round
CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI
LONG SHOTS Milloy and mates take heart from the Cards' Super Bowl run of two years ago.