Saints strafed by the Seahawks

Wilson unleashes dual threat on Saints, throws three touchdown passes

It was supposed to be a showdown of the top two teams in the NFC. But a showdown it was not.

Instead, the Seattle Seahawks — the best team in the NFC and probably the NFL — dealt the Saints one of their worst defeats since they’ve been under the command of coach Sean Payton, routing New Orleans 34-7 on Monday night to extend their winning streak at CenturyLink Field to a franchise-best 14 games and clinch a playoff spot.

Payton and the Saints (9-3) had not lost that badly since dropping a contest on the road to the Indianapolis Colts in the first week of the 2007 season 41-10.

“We didn’t do a good enough job coaching and certainly didn’t give our guys a chance to make plays,” Payton said. “We got beat — we got beat good tonight, so it’s tough.”

The man responsible for much of the beating was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson obliterated New Orleans’ pass defense, which entered its clash with Seattle surrendering the NFL’s third-fewest passing yards per game (198). He threw for three touchdowns and 310 yards on 22-of-30 passing as he bagged his 22nd career win, tying a league record for most victories in an NFL quarterback’s first two seasons.

His passes included bombs that went for 60, 52 and 33 yards as he exploited blown assignments by the Saints secondary time and again.

In a play that vividly illustrated how putrid of a night it was for the Saints and how excellent it was for Wilson, one of his passes bounced off the fingertips of backup tight end Kellen Davis — and directly into the grasp of backup fullback Derrick Coleman for an 8-yard touchdown that helped put Seattle ahead by 27 with 7:17 left in the third quarter.

That lead dwarfed the 17-0 deficit Seattle slashed its way to in the first 15 minutes of the game, which at that point was already the Saints’ largest deficit of the season.

Displaying the versatility that’s made him one of the NFL’s superstars, Wilson scrambled effectively, gaining 47 yards on just eight carries. He helped Seattle (11-1) finish with 127 yards on 38 attempts.

“Russell ... finds so many ways to make it hard on our opponent, that he’s tough to defend, tough to deal with,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’ll just continue to get better.”

The Saints’ efforts on offense were equally futile. Against a Seattle defense that was allowing the second-fewest total yards per game (293.2), New Orleans amassed just 188, well under its previous season low this year of 347 in a win at Chicago on Oct. 6.

Quarterback Drew Brees went 23-of-38 passing for 147 yards, his fewest in a game he played the majority of since he threw for 132 against the New York Giants on Christmas Eve 2006. The outing snapped his NFL record streak of 43 games with at least 200 passing yards.

Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary didn’t manage to pick Brees off, even though it came into Monday night tied for the league lead in interceptions with 16. But a Seahawks defense allowing the second-fewest total yards per game (293.2) caused a turnover that essentially broke New Orleans’ back.

With about 6:30 left in the first quarter, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril blew past Saints right tackle Zach Strief and stripped Brees of the ball as he threw it. The ball ended up in the hands of Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who returned the takeaway 22 yards for a score that put Seattle up 10-0.

“We got that touchdown, and it took a lot of energy out of them,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “That got the crowd going, and everything started happening from there.”

Strief’s night got worse. He left the game late in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury.

“Everything they did offensively was right,” Brees said. “We didn’t really get a whole lot of anything going.”

The only bright spot for New Orleans came in the second quarter when Brees connected with Jimmy Graham for a 2-yard touchdown, the tight end’s 12th of the year. The touchdown only helped cut the deficit to 17-7, but it represented a single-season career high for Graham and set a club record for receiving scores in a year.

It was far too little. After the Saints punted six times (tying a season high), they were outgained by 241 yards. They picked up a season-low 12 first downs and lost their third straight game held outdoors, dating to an Oct. 13 setback at New England.

With four games left in the season, Seattle owns a two-game cushion and a head-to-head tie breaker over the Saints in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and the home-field advantage associated with that.

Making matters worse for the Saints, they’re tied for the lead in the NFC South with divisional rival Carolina (9-3), whom they still need to face twice.

There’s precious little time for New Orleans to mourn Monday night’s crushing defeat. Their first encounter with Carolina is at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night.

According to Payton, that’s sort of a blessing.

“I think the key is the short schedule,” Payton said. “There are a lot of things that we didn’t do well. So we need to move on to it.”

Carolina’s defense is no less tough than Seattle’s. The Panthers headed into Monday holding opponents to the fewest yards (289.9) and points (13.1) per game in the NFL.