Saints embark on perilous path
SEATTLE — A year ago, the New Orleans Saints rode the raucous enthusiasm of the Superdome through the NFC playoffs to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
They waved goodbye to the Superdome on their way out of town earlier this week. There’s a good chance if these Saints are going to get all the way back to the league’s title game, they’ll be asked to do it on the road.
The first stop on their postseason trip begins today in Seattle, against the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs.
It doesn’t quite seem right the defending champs and an 11-win team this season would be asked to travel 2,000 miles on a short week to face the first division champs in league history with a losing record — and a team the Saints beat, 34-19, in Week 11.
“We all have a formula for getting in. We all know ahead of time. No one was upset about it or complaining about it before the start of the season,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think that value of winning your division means something. Just as a season ago when the postseason began, the teams that are in now really are 0-0. That’s just the truth. I think our players understand that more than anything.’’
But the task in front of the Saints as the No. 5 seed became seemingly more difficult as the week progressed.
There’s the second consecutive short week having played at Atlanta Dec. 27, losing at home to Tampa Bay last Sunday, and taking off Thursday after practice to make the five-hour flight to Seattle. There’s the Pacific Northwest weather, where rain and even a chance of some light snow are being forecast.
There’s the Saints’ history, which tells the story of a franchise that has never won, let alone played well, away from the Superdome in the playoffs. New Orleans lost, 16-6, at Chicago in 1991; 34-16 at Minnesota in 2001; and 39-14 at Chicago in the NFC Championship game four years ago.
Then there’s the injuries. Already this week, the Saints placed their top two running backs — Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas — on injured reserve. Only Reggie Bush and Julius Jones remain as the Saints’ healthy running backs from the regular season.
Marques Colston, who had eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting against Seattle, is listed as probable, but underwent knee surgery less than two weeks ago. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is out, thinning a secondary that allowed 366 yards passing to Seattle earlier this year. Starting outside linebacker Danny Clark, tight end Jimmy Graham, and defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove are also out.
“Underdog’’ wasn’t uttered this week around the Seahawks’ practice facility.
“It’s kind of funny because Pete always says, ‘Hey, I don’t care who they bring in here — they could bring in the world champs!’ And the irony is they are really bringing in the world champs, so there you go,’’ Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.
A Seattle upset would be quite the big deal and at least silence some of the criticism lobbed toward the Pacific Northwest after Seattle won the NFC West with a 7-9 record.
Even their own fans are skeptical of what the Seahawks accomplished — as of yesterday morning there were still tickets available.
Asked if the Seahawks needed to apologize for backing into the postseason while 10-win teams like the Giants and Buccaneers have cleaned out their lockers, Hasselbeck looked incredulous.
“Apologize to who?’’ Hasselbeck said. “I’m not going to apologize for that.’’
If Seattle’s going to have a chance to at least threaten the Saints, they’ll need another huge game from Hasselbeck, in what could be his final home game with the Seahawks. Hasselbeck’s 366 yards against the Saints this season was the fourth-best performance of his career.
“We’re here, we’ve got our foot in the door, now it’s time to do something with it,’’ Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch said.