Seahawks shut up Jimmy Graham, shut down Saints and advance to NFC title game

SEATTLE – New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham was warming up on the wrong side of the field.

It was about two hours before kickoff, there were maybe a couple hundred people in the stadium, but of all the teams to test on this seemingly minor issue, the Seattle Seahawks are the wrong one.

Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin let Graham know he was on the Seahawks' side and wanted him to move.

"I asked him politely, I said 'We're about to warm up,'" Irvin said. "He said, 'I'm Jimmy.' I'm like, 'Who is Jimmy?' That's when I hit the ball out of his hands and kicked it across the field."

Graham, Irvin and a few other Seahawks had words after that. Later on in pregame warm-ups, cornerback Richard Sherman and Graham jawed at each other. Then Graham, an All-Pro tight end not known for getting in verbal wars, went out and caught one pass for 8 yards, and that came in the final minute.

The Seahawks never trailed and beat the Saints 23-15 to advance to the NFC championship game.

"My intentions weren't to get his mind off the game," Irvin said. "Fortunately it happened like that, so I'm not complaining."

It doesn't take much to get the Seahawks going, but Graham seemed to do it.

"He said he was going to run us over or something. Heh heh," Sherman said with a smile.

"It's hard coming in here talking a big game. It's hard, it's hard. It's a lamb coming to the wolves and throwing meat at them."

The Seahawks like to dance on the field, they like to talk, and the most frustrating part for opponents is they can back it all up. The Seahawks' starting defense broke into an impromptu dance during pregame warm-ups, bringing the crowd to its feet. Then it went out and held Drew Brees to 34 yards passing in the first half.

During a replay review late in the fourth quarter, Marshawn Lynch was taking swigs from the water bottle and spraying it out of his mouth like a geyser, just because. On the next play he ran around left end for a 31-yard touchdown.

After the game Lynch, who was fined $50,000 for not talking to the media but said he got it overturned on an appeal, waited at his locker to answer questions. A rap song blared through the locker room, ensuring Lynch's one-word answers couldn't be heard. Then Lynch thanked the media and walked away. The back of his white sweatshirt had "(Expletive) you" repeated all along the back of it.

When you consider that their coach Pete Carroll carries himself with the same swagger (his cocky sideline strut in the first meeting against the Saints became a bit of an Internet meme), you understand where this team gets it from.

You might not like the style of these super-confident, strutting, dancing, trash-talking Seahawks, but really, they don't care. They're just having fun, and if anyone gets offended, oh well.

"That's us, that's the Seahawks," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "We don't care how the world wants us to play. We're going to play how we play. If we like to dance and have fun, that's what we do. And we're winning."

They have won a lot this season, and not because they've played mind tricks on the opponent by agitating them with their attitude. They're the best team in football, and they showed that again Saturday.

The offense is in a slump, and Russell Wilson completed just 9-of-18 passes for 103 yards. Receiver Percy Harvin didn't even last a half in his comeback before suffering a concussion. There aren't a lot of weapons in the passing game to frighten an opponent. But Lynch rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense was dominant, as it has been all season. The secondary is the best in the league and the pass rush is fearsome. The Saints scored just one touchdown here in a 34-7 loss on Dec. 2, and were shut out until the fourth quarter on Sunday. New Orleans, which was fourth in the NFL in total defense, didn't break double digits in points until 26 seconds remained and the Seahawks led 23-8.

If you're around the Seahawks at all, you realize that they understand the game very well. Sherman, best known for being one of the league's biggest talkers, held court at his locker after Saturday's game. He went in-depth about the Saints' passing concepts out of certain formations, alignments or splits, and how the defensive backs had to play each one a certain way, based on leverage and the help they would get on each coverage.

They are very sharp. Oh, and they're the most physical defense in the league too.

"I think we have the right to be confident, not cocky, by the way we prepare every week," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. "I don't think anyone suffers the way we suffer during the week."

Somehow they lead the league in confidence but without much individual ego. Irvin, drafted as a pass rusher, had just two sacks this regular season and has more of a coverage role, but said he doesn't care as long as Seattle wins. Defensive end Michael Bennett, who will be a sought-after free agent after his 8.5 sacks this season, said he felt blessed to be just a part of such a great defense. And on it goes.

They might bother opponents, but they play well together.

The Seahawks are one win from the Super Bowl, and this team has a great shot to bring home the franchise's first NFL championship. They'll host the 49ers or Panthers next week. It's rare to hear a player say they prefer one playoff opponent over the other, but receiver Golden Tate said he felt that it was harder to play a division opponent like the 49ers a third time, and the Panthers hadn't yet traveled this season to the ridiculously loud atmosphere of CenturyLink Field, which might be a benefit.

"So if I had to choose, I'd say Carolina," Tate said. "But we'll welcome either with open arms."

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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