SEATTLE - In the afterglow of advancing to the NFC championship game, Russell Wilson patrolled the Seattle Seahawks locker room making sure the message was still clear to his teammates.
"We haven't done anything yet," Wilson said. "That's our goal, we have 60 minutes of football left. I was talking to some of the guys in the locker room, I was talking to coach Carroll, I was just kind of sitting there. You have 60 minutes left of football, 60 minutes of your life, the best 60 minutes that you can possibly play, and then you play in the Super Bowl."
The Seahawks are one step from the Super Bowl because in the NFC divisional playoff game against New Orleans on Saturday they leaned on the principles Pete Carroll put in place in the infancy of his arrival in Seattle. The Seahawks have been about running the football and playing defense first and foremost, well before Wilson arrived or Percy Harvin was acquired.
It was of little surprise that Marshawn Lynch kept getting fed carries and Seattle used another swarming defensive effort against Drew Brees and New Orleans' potent offense in Saturday's 23-15 victory. It was a blustery, nasty day where those traits Carroll values so deeply were brought to the forefront.
Lynch finished with a franchise playoff record 140 yards rushing and both of Seattle's touchdowns.
"This is exactly why you make a commitment to be a balanced offense and a balanced football team, so that when you have these kinds of opportunities and situations that you can play D, you can stick with your kicking game and come through and you can run the football," Carroll said. "I think it was really a great look."
Seattle will host San Francisco on Sunday in the NFC championship game with the possibility of advancing to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. Seattle's only Super Bowl trip came in the 2005 playoffs when it routed Carolina in the NFC championship game at home.
"It feels awesome, but this doesn't mean anything if we don't win next week," Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said.
Even though he again was one of the top running backs in the league, Lynch's regular season lacked consistency. Much of that was due to blocking struggles by Seattle's offensive line, but something clicked against the Saints and the Seahawks kept turning to their bruising back. Lynch had 69 yards in the first half, including his 15-yard touchdown run that gave Seattle a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But it was his 31-yard touchdown run with 2:40 left that provided the capper for Seattle. The 1- and 2-yard runs from earlier in the game finally popped with Lynch's TD run that left CenturyLink Field shaking again.
"I just stayed with what we were calling and just believed in my team," Lynch said.
Seattle's final numbers defensively won't look astounding even though they stymied Brees and the Saints offense for much of the game. New Orleans had 205 of its 409 total yards in the fourth quarter. The longest play of the game, a 52-yard pass from Brees to Robert Meacham, should have been intercepted by either Earl Thomas or Byron Maxwell but instead deflected into Meacham's hands.
The 409 total yards were the most allowed by Seattle since Week 4 at Houston.
"He's going to fight all the way through until the clock hits zero and you saw that," Thomas said of Brees. "If we give him a window of opportunity, he always capitalizes. But fortunately, we didn't give him too many."
The lingering question for the Seahawks will be the health of Harvin, who played in just his second game of the season. Harvin suffered a concussion late in the first half jumping for a pass in the end zone and getting hit as he landed on the field by New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins. It was the second big hit Harvin absorbed after getting belted by Rafael Bush on Seattle's opening possession.
Harvin brought a jolt of energy and excitement to Seattle's offense before being injured. Harvin led Seattle with three receptions and had a 9-yard run on his lone carry. He also drew attention and made Seattle's offense function better. The Seahawks had 163 yards of offense in the first half and 114 yards in the second half, 62 on their final possession.
"It certainly seemed like he had a contribution that was obvious," Carroll said. "He almost popped that run when we had him going on the edge, and we had that big third down play. Just unfortunately, he got smacked a couple of times, and he couldn't stay out there."