Spot On: The Day a Beast Made the Earth Shake

Russell S. Baxter

Spot On: The Day a Beast Made the Earth Shake

By Brandon Fazzolari

Special to Pro Football Guru

It’s safe to say that several residents of the great city of Seattle, Washington, will never forget the day that was January 8th, 2011. It was an NFC Wild Card Game match-up between the Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. The game featured one of the most electrifying touchdown runs in NFL history. It was a play that some may insist triggered seismograph readings. In any case, let’s reminisce about one of the most amazing postseason moments in NFL annals.

Background

The 2010 Seahawks came into this game as quite possibly the least qualified team ever to play in the postseason – 27th in the NFL in total offense and 28th in defense. After 12 games, they were 6-6 and tied with the St. Louis Rams atop the lackluster NFC West. They proceeded to go on a three-game losing streak and were embarrassed by the 49ers, Falcons and Buccaneers respectively. At this point, they had been outscored by a staggering 107 points with the CLOSEST of their losses being a 34-19 defeat at New Orleans. During their late-season stumble, starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was in and out of the lineup with various injuries and shared snaps with Charlie Whitehurst. The latter was best known for his nickname, “Clipboard Jesus” because of his flowing beard and consistent backup status.

Fortunately for Seattle, the Rams, who were substantially better on paper than the Seahawks, only had a 7-8 record going into the regular season’s final game. Therefore, amazingly, the division and a 4th-seed in the NFC playoffs would be on the line when the Rams visited Seattle. The NFL and NBC flexed this game to the Sunday night feature. Thus the nation got the opportunity to witness Seattle’s much-maligned defense come up big. Pete Carroll employed a scheme where his defense would focus on shutting down running back Steven Jackson. He felt confident Sam Bradford would falter at raucous Qwest Field and he was correct. Whitehurst and the offense did just enough as the Seahawks defeated the Rams, 16-6, and won the division with a 7-9 record.

The Champs Are Here

Enter the New Orleans Saints. The team finished 11-5 with the NFL’s sixth-best offense and fourth-best defense. Coached by Sean Payton and quarterbacked by the fantastic Drew Brees, New Orleans was looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The road was made more difficult because Atlanta had an outstanding season under Mike Smith and won the NFC South going away.

The first quarter seemed to go as planned. New Orleans moved the ball easily while Hasselbeck, back in the lineup, was intercepted by Jabari Greer on the third play. Brees hit Heath Evans for the first touchdown of the afternoon and the Saints grabbed a 10-0 lead less than nine minutes into the action. The Hawks, though, issued a fiery response to that score. On the ensuing possession, Hasselbeck completed all five of his passes and “beast” Marshawn Lynch – acquired in a midseason trade from the Buffalo Bills – ran twice for 16 yards. Seattle would cut the lead to 10-7.

After Julius Jones scored to give the Saints their 10-point lead back, Seattle stunningly took control. Over the next 20 minutes of action, Seattle outscored New Orleans, 27-3, and went into the fourth quarter ahead 34-20. Brees would finish the day with 39 completions and 404 yards passing. Jones scored again and Garrett Hartley hit on a chip shot, making the score, 34-30, when history was made.

The Play

With about 3:30 left in the game, the Seahawks had the ball at their own 33-yard line. If they could get a few first downs, they would pull off the upset and become the first team in NFL history to win a postseason game with a sub-.500 record. The play was called “17 power.” It called for man on man blocking with the hope of creating a crease for Lynch to pick up valuable yards while chewing up some clock. The Saints, though, bounced off their blocks well and after a two-yard gain, Lynch found himself met in the hole by linebacker Scott Shanle.

He dismissed that tackle attempt effortlessly as Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith also failed to bring him down. Lynch now had a huge first down, but he was not done. Remi Ayodele and Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper were the next defenders Lynch ran through en route to the end zone. Greer and Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter also had their chances but Lynch was simply too strong. Perhaps the highlight of the play was the way “Beast Mode” tossed Porter several yards with a greatest stiff arm. Alex Brown and Sharper each made one last desperate lunge at Lynch in vain. Marshawn leaped over the goal line as 66,000 spectators went insane.

Aftermath

Seattle would hold on for a 41-36 victory. One week later, they lost to Chicago, 35-24, ending their campaign with eight wins in 18 games. But, the Lynch run and the enthusiasm it generated was a turning point in Seahawks’ history. In 2011, Carroll and his defense improved dramatically. In 2012, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was brilliant in leading the Seahawks back to the playoffs. And, in 2013, Seattle won its first Super Bowl championship beating the Saints in the playoffs along the way.

Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.

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