SEATTLE — As the Saints walked out of the locker room Monday to take the field before the opening kickoff, a fan leaned over the railing, holding a sign telling New Orleans it couldn’t play in cold weather.
There was only one problem with that assessment: The end result had nothing to do with weather and everything to do with the home team.
Seattle came out and knocked the Saints into a tie with Carolina for the NFC South lead while planting their 12th-man flag on the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, dominating New Orleans 34-7.
It was New Orleans’ first loss on Monday night after winning nine straight.
Now the Saints, a team on their heels with one month to play, must deal with a short week before hosting the red-hot Panthers in six days.
It may take awhile to get over Monday night, though.
The Seahawks (11-1) gobbled up 315 yards in the first half in taking a 20-point lead into the locker room at halftime. Seattle was 6 of 8 on third downs and averaged 8.5 yards per play in the first 30 minutes.
In all, the Saints’ defense, ranked fifth heading into the game, gave up 429 yards, including 302 through the air by quarterback Russell Wilson.
After talking this week about how he looked up to Drew Brees, Wilson did a better job Monday night of impersonating the Saints’ quarterback. He kept plays alive with his feet and rifled passes into places where only his receivers could catch the ball.
New Orleans, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going. The Saints (9-3) put up their lowest yard total in a game in which Brees started, finishing with just 188 yards, the previous low of 246 coming in 2007 against Tampa Bay.
Brees finished the game completing just 23 passes for only 147 yards, his lowest total in a game the Saints lost, the same 2007 Tampa Bay game.
The Saints went three-and-out on the opening series of the game and gave way to Wilson and Lynch, who had a hand in all 61 yards as New Orleans fell behind 3-0 on a Steven Hauschka 26-yard field goal.
It didn’t get better for New Orleans.
On third down on the ensuing series, Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril came around right end and hit Brees’ hand as he was getting ready to pass. The ball, in the air for a split second, was caught by the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, who returned it 22 yards for a touchdown a 10-0 deficit for New Orleans.
Once again, the Saints couldn’t get anything going on offense and for the second time in three series, was forced to punt.
Three plays later, on third-and-one, Wilson found tight end Zach Miller alone behind the Saints’ secondary and 60 yards later, New Orleans was defending the goal line. Wilson’s touchdown pass to Miller gave the Seahawks a 17-0 lead and the first quarter was yet to be over.
Finally, the Saints answered and did it exactly the way they needed to, driving 80 yards on a time-consuming 13 plays. And with 8:45 to go in the opening half, New Orleans pulled to within 17-7 when Brees found Graham for a two-yard touchdown.
The defense nearly gave the touchdown right back. Malcolm Jenkins allowed receiver Doug Baldwin to get behind him on third-and-three, a play that ended up switching the ball from the Seattle 23 to New Orleans’ 25. But the defense eventually stopped Wilson a yard shy of a first-down at the 2 and Hauschka’s 20-yard field goal made it 20-7 late in the second quarter.
After their third three-and-out of the game, Seattle continued to steamroll the Saints. This time, Wilson drove Seattle 88 yards in 12 plays in only 1:52 and threw his second touchdown pass of the night to lengthen the lead to 27-7.
Seattle all but iced the game midway through the third when Wilson’s pass bounced off a running back and into the hands of Derrick Coleman, who had come inbounds and re-established himself to get the score.