AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) – Marshawn Lynch overpowered the New Orleans Saints in the postseason – again.
Lynch ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns, Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals in blustery conditions and Seattle’s defense flustered Drew Brees and New Orleans in a 23-15 victory Saturday in the NFC divisional playoff game.
The top-seeded Seahawks advanced to the NFC championship game for the second time in franchise history and will host San Francisco or Carolina next Sunday. Seattle last reached the conference title game in the 2005 playoffs.
Seattle shut out the Saints in the first half, got Lynch’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 of the regular season and received a spark from the brief return of Percy Harvin before he left with a concussion. Lynch scored on a 15-yard run in the first half and capped the victory with a 31-yard scoring run with 2:40 left that coach Pete Carroll celebrated by jumping into offensive line coach Tom Cable’s arms. Lynch stiff-armed Keenan Lewis on his way to the end zone for the clinching score that left CenturyLink Field swaying.
While the clinching score lacked the stunning explosiveness of Lynch’s “Beast Quake” touchdown run against the Saints in the 2010 playoffs, this one was more important. It ensured Seattle would not be the latest No. 1 seed to get upset by a No. 6 seed in the divisional round.
Lynch finished with 28 carries and made up for another shaky day passing by Russell Wilson. Seattle’s offense was a concern heading into the postseason and, outside of Lynch, did little to quell those worries.
Wilson missed on five of his first six pass attempts to start the second half but came through with a vital 31-yard completion to Doug Baldwin with 2:57 remaining. On the next play, Lynch got a key seal block on the edge from Jermaine Kearse and raced down the sideline for his second TD.
Wilson finished 9 of 18 for a career-low 103 yards. His leading receiver was Harvin, making his second appearance of the season after nearly getting put on injured reserve less than two weeks ago. Harvin had three receptions for 21 yards in the first half and one rush for 9 yards, but left the game late in the first half with a concussion.
Hauschka hit field goals of 38 and 49 yards with the windy, rainy conditions at his back and hit a 26-yarder into the wind late in the third quarter.
Brees finished 24 of 43 for 309 yards and put a scare into Seattle in the closing seconds. After Lynch’s touchdown, Brees took the Saints 80 yards in nine plays, capped with a 9-yard TD pass to Marques Colston with 26 seconds left that made it 23-15.
Colston then recovered the onside kick when it caromed off the chest of Golden Tate and directly to the Saints‘ receiver.
Brees took over at his 41 with 24 seconds left and Jimmy Graham caught his first pass of the game on an 8-yard completion. Brees spiked the ball to stop the clock, then found Colston near the sideline. Instead of stepping out of bounds to have one more play, Colston tried to throw across the field to Darren Sproles. The pass was forward and the penalty for an illegal forward pass ran off the final 10 seconds of the clock giving Seattle the victory.
Khiry Robinson rushed for a career-high 57 yards and had a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter as the Saints continued to stress the running game. New Orleans finished with 108 yards rushing on 26 attempts. The 2-point conversion by Mark Ingram pulled the Saints to 16-8.
But New Orleans could never overcome Ingram’s fumble in the first half that led to Lynch’s first touchdown run and a 13-0 lead, and a pair of missed field goals by Shayne Graham. Both times Graham was wide left kicking into the wind after not missing after he was re-signed by the Saints late in the season.
New Orleans was shut out in the first half for the third time in Sean Payton’s tenure as head coach and first since 2011. Brees was held to 34 yards passing in the half. Jimmy Graham was not targeted until the very end of the half and the pass was batted away by Earl Thomas.
Colston finished with 11 receptions for 144 yards, but Graham was held to one catch for 8 yards.