Seattle - The New Orleans Saints mounted a strong second-half comeback but came up short as the Seattle Seahawks won 23-15 Saturday at CenturyLink Field to advance to the NFC championship game next Sunday.
The top-seeded Seahawks, who had a bye last week, grabbed a 16-0 first-half lead behind two Steven Hauschka field goals and a 15-yard Marshawn Lynch rushing touchdown. That score was set up by a Mark Ingram fumble when the Saints had the ball at their 20. Seattle scored two plays later.
The sixth-seeded Saints (12-6), who had to win at Philadelphia last week to advance to the divisional playoff game, only managed 113 yards of offense in the first half and quarterback Drew Brees was just 5 of 12 for 34 yards, his lowest first-half output of his Saints career.
The Saints' offense came to life in the second half and they scored their first touchdown on a 1-yard Khiry Robinson run and tacked on a 2-point coversion run by Ingram. After stopping Seattle, the Saints marched down to the Seattle 30 before Shayne Graham missed a 48-yard attempt. Graham missed from 45 yards in the first half.
The drive was set up by a 52-yard Brees-to-Robert Meachem pass that two Seahawks defenders almost grabbed. Brees finished 24 of 43 for 309 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Marques Colston was the team's leading receiver with 11 catches for 144 yards with one touchdown while Meachem had two for 69 yards. Robinson was the team's leading rusher with 13 carries for 57 yards while Ingram had 10 carries for 49 yards.
Star tight end Jimmy Graham did not have a reception until 20 seconds were left.
Lynch gave Seattle (14-3) much needed breathing room with a 31-yard touchdown run down the left side with 2:40 to play. He finished with 28 carries for 140 yards.
The Saints scored after Lynch's TD run on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Colston with 26 seconds to play and recovered the onside kick but without timeouts were unable to score in the final 24 seconds. The game ended with an illegal forward pass on Colston, who tried a pass across the field after making a catch on the right sideline. By rule, the penalty was a 10-second runoff which ended the game.
The Saints' defense played tough and harassed Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson for most of the game. The Saints sacked Wilson three times but he eluded numerous other pressures. He finished 9 for 18 with 103 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The Seahawks had just 277 yards of offense.
Seattle's star receiver, Percy Harvin, had three receptions for 21 yards before being forced to leave the game with a concussion at at the end of the first half.
The Saints struggled on third down as they converted only 3 of 12 attempts. They were 1 for 3 on fourth down. The Saints were penalized eight times for 74 yards. The Seahawks were 5 of 14 on third down and didn't have a fourth-down attempt. Linebacker David Hawthorne led the Saints with nine tackles while safety Roman Harper had eight.
Seattle will host either San Francisco or Carolina next Sunday in the NFC title game.