SEATTLE (AP) — This trip to the Pacific Northwest was a disaster for the New Orleans Saints.
Another poor game in Seattle likely would mean the end of the season for Drew Brees and Co.
New Orleans' high-powered offense managed just a second-quarter touchdown pass from Brees to Jimmy Graham, and the Saints lost 34-7 to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks on Monday night.
"Not much went right today," Graham said. " I can't point out one thing or two or three or four, it was just the team played very, very poorly tonight and we have to learn from that because all these count."
Russell Wilson threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns as Seattle (11-1) became the first NFL team to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
More importantly, the Seahawks (11-1) moved two games ahead of the rest of the NFC in the race for home-field advantage and secured the tiebreakers over New Orleans (9-3) and Carolina (9-3), the two closest pursuers.
Wilson was outstanding, picking apart the Saints' defense. He threw touchdown passes of 2 yards to Zach Miller and 4 yards to Doug Baldwin in the first half as Seattle built a 27-7 lead. Wilson added a pinball 8-yard TD pass to Derrick Coleman in the third quarter.
Michael Bennett had a 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter to give Seattle a 10-0 lead and the Saints never got back into the game. It was a dominating performance by the Seahawks, making up for a lackluster effort the last time they were given a national television spotlight and were taken to the final yard and final play by St. Louis.
Not this time. The most anticipated game in the NFC this season was a laugher.
"The fact of the matter is, we took one in the chin today. We got outplayed today," Brees said. "They played great. They made a lot of plays and we didn't. They deserve a lot of credit both defensively and offensively for the way they played they were certainly well prepared. This is a tough atmosphere to come in and play, but obviously we are much better team then what we put on the field today."
Brees and the Saints were stymied the entire game, with the star quarterback losing for the first time on Monday night after nine straight wins. The decisive result also continued the belief New Orleans can't win outdoors late in the season.
New Orleans didn't crack 100 yards of total offense until midway through the third quarter. Graham was nearly invisible outside of his franchise-record 12th TD catch of the season that pulled the Saints to 17-7.
Brees finished 23 of 38 for 147 yards. Graham had three catches for 42 yards. Darren Sproles led New Orleans with seven catches, many of those checkdowns. The seven points were tied for the fewest scored by the Saints since Sean Payton became coach in 2006 and the 188 total yards were the fewest in his coaching tenure.
"We had trouble rushing the football. We had trouble protecting the passer, getting guys open. We didn't do enough things in any one area," Payton said. "So we didn't do a good enough job coaching and certainly didn't give our guys a chance to make plays. We got beat, we got beat good tonight so it's tough."
The Saints went three-and-out on their first possession and that was just the start of their struggles. On their next possession, Brees was hit from behind by Cliff Avril and fumbled into the arms of Bennett, who returned it for the touchdown.
Brees was unable to take advantage of Seattle's depleted secondary. The Seahawks were without Brandon Browner (injury) and Walter Thurmond (suspension), but Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane played well in their places. The Saints couldn't find a way to exploit the backups and the pressure from Seattle's defensive line had Brees rushing his throws much of the night.
"Maxwell and Lane, those guys are really good. I believe they can start anywhere in the NFL. They're that good," Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said. "They stepped up tonight real big for us and we're going to need them for the rest of the season."
Wilson's passing stole the show. He was 14 of 19 in the first half for 226 yards and a rating of 148.1. Seattle had seven completions of 12 or more yards in the first half. The Seahawks finished with 315 first-half yards, the most allowed by the Saints in a first half since 2005 against Minnesota.
"He got out of the pocket, he made smart throws, got some big plays down the field, extended drives," Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "That's the one thing we wanted to stop and we didn't."
NOTES: It was the first time in five games that Graham did not have at least five receptions. He was targeted nine times. ... The Saints had just 44 yards rushing, their second lowest total of the season. ... Wilson is 14-0 at home and has won 22 regular-season games in his first two seasons, tied for most in NFL history.
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Posted on Tue, December 3, 2013