Happy New Year, everybody! How’d you like Wild Card weekend, with three of four games decided by 3 points or less, including our big road win over the Eagles. Next up, the NFL’s #1 ranked team, the Seahawks. It will take our best effort to come out on top, but that’s what we plan on doing.
Seattle won’t be taking us lightly. We’re going into hostile territory, and it’ll take the best game that we have to win.
Let’s recap the Wild Card win. Some might see it as a hex that we were 0-5 in road playoff games—and that the victory lifted this huge burden off our backs—but our team doesn’t feel that way. Coach Payton has positively emphasized that we don’t carry the failures of past teams. This is the 2013-’14 team, and we’re writing our own history. We went into the Eagles game with confidence that we’d play the type of football we needed to win, and we did.
What was it like watching that final drive from the sidelines with my defensive teammates? Our offense had been running the ball pretty successfully, so once Darren Sproles busted that 39-yard kickoff return, with a flag advancing us into Eagles territory, we knew we had a good chance. It was more a matter of how long would it take for us to score, and would we have to go out again on defense? But Drew and the gang ran the clock right down to the end, when our new kicker, veteran Shayne Graham, made a clutch field goal to win it, 26-24! Those are the kinds of drives that win championships—run the ball effectively, eat up the clock—and that’s how you close out a game.
During the week, we practiced up-tempo, with everything back to back to back. We got so used to the pace the Eagles play that when we got to the game, it was actually easier. And early on, our defense played really well. We kept the ball in front of us. We mostly stopped the run, stepped up on third down and didn’t allow any explosive plays. In the second half our offense started to put up some points. And then came the special teams kickoff return, the drive and the field goal. That’s kind of how it goes—all three phases help win the game.
New Orleans tackled Philly. Can they have the same success vs. Seattle? Time will tell…
Now to Seattle. We definitely haven’t had the best recent memories of CenturyLink Field, losing 34-7 there earlier this year. So how do we win? It all starts with a great week of preparation—figuring out what we want to do, diving into every little detail and sticking to a game plan. Even when we played them last time, it came down to little things on certain plays. You’ve got to get familiar with the game plan, practice it, so that once you go out there you can execute without having to think.
I went up to Pro Bowl QB Russell Wilson after the earlier game, purely out of respect. Even in college I watched him. I really admire who he is as a person and his game. But as a defender, how do you contain him? First, you try to stop RB Marshawn Lynch. You can’t allow Wilson to extend plays. His receivers do a great job of uncovering downfield, or he can scramble for a first down. That’s where all the big gains happen. He really kills you when he gets outside. So keeping him in the pocket is what we’ve been practicing on D.
During the regular season we ranked #4 on both offense and defense, and I think we’re the only team left in the tournament that’s among the top 5 in both categories. Seattle won’t be taking us lightly. We’re going into hostile territory, and it’ll take the best game that we have to win.
Everyone is within two games of the Super Bowl, and with every victory, the pressure increases and there’s more on the line. But that’s what you love and that’s what the game is about, inching toward that ultimate goal. When all is said and done this week, the only thing left is to go play the game. And we’re excited about that opportunity.
By the way, my new daughter is doing really well and my days off are spent learning how to babysit. She feeds well but the challenge is to get her to go back to sleep—while I’m sitting on the couch watching game tape!
—As told to Ashley Jude Collie