Sunday January 6th, 2008

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West, but make no mistake, they were the ultimate wild card. No one knew quite what to make of them. They had not beaten a playoff team since the opener against Tampa Bay. They had not even faced a playoff team since traveling to Pittsburgh in October. They were division champions, but that is no great accomplishment, considering their division is regarded as the worst in football.

Over the past few months, the Seahawks sometimes looked bored by their own schedule, as though they were in an exhibition season that would not end. But they broke out of their stupor with a fury Saturday afternoon at Qwest Field, thumping the Washington Redskins 35-14, and thereby ending the sweetest storyline in the NFL.

After coming back from the death of Sean Taylor, and coming back to make the playoffs with a four-game winning streak, the Redskins came back from a 13-0 deficit in the fourth quarter Saturday. They even took the lead, however briefly, before Seattle answered with two touchdowns in 28 seconds, good for a trip to the divisional playoffs.

The first of Seattle's rapid fire touchdowns was a 20-yard pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to wide receiver D.J. Hackett. The second was an interception that cornerback Marcus Trufant returned 78 yards down the sideline. You could feel the stands at Qwest Field shaking as Trufant sprinted downfield and crossed the goal line.

"I think that really put icing on the cake," said Seattle safety Brian Russell.

The Seahawks will now head to Green Bay, site of Hasselbeck's most infamous playoff moment. Before overtime of a 2004 playoff game at Lambeau Field, Hasselbeck won the coin toss and declared into the microphone: "We want the ball and we're going to score." He promptly threw an interception that was returned for a game-ending touchdown.

Asked Saturday if he regretted the outburst, Hasselbeck said: "Not at all. I thought it was funny. I just regret throwing the interception."

Famous for its west-coast offense, Seattle won this game with a heavy-metal defense. Through the first half, the Redskins did not reach the Seahawks' 30-yard line. Through the first three quarters, they did not score a point. Washington's Todd Collins, who before last month had not started a game in 10 years, looked every bit the backup.

But in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Collins tossed two touchdown passes, a seven-yarder Antwaan Randle El and a 30-yarder to Santana Moss. The only problem with the comeback is that the Redskins had an opportunity for so much more.

After Washington's second touchdown, a pooch kickoff bounced between Nate Burleson and Josh Wilson and was recovered by the Redskins at the 19-yard-line. But place-kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 30-yard field goal, wide to the left, letting momentum fade away. "That fed us a great deal of energy," said Seattle defensive end Patrick Kerney.

"I think that today's game is a little bit like our season in that nothing seemed to go right for us early and then this team has a way," said Washington head coach Joe Gibbs. "They kept fighting and found a way to get us back into it. I wish we could have made some more plays there at the end but we didn't."

The game was much more competitive than the final score indicates. Seattle cornerback Jordan Babineaux -- who calls himself Big Play Babs -- sealed it with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute. Babineaux has had great success in first-round games at Qwest Field. Last year, he tackled Dallas quarterback Tony Romo short of the end zone after Romo fumbled a last-minute field-goal snap.

In recent years, the Seahawks have become playoff regulars, winning the NFC West four straight times. But during that period, they have never won a playoff game away from the rowdy confines of Qwest Field. Next week, they have an opportunity to take a Lambeau Leap, all the way into the NFL's elite.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.