- Associated Press - Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Seattle Seahawks, boosted by the roar of their crowd, silenced their critics and stunned the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 41-36 to open the NFL playoffs Saturday.

Seattle, the first division winner with a losing record, advanced behind four touchdown passes by Matt Hasselbeck and a brilliant 67-yard run by Marshawn Lynch on which he broke six tackles.

The Seahawks (8-9) will visit either top-seeded Atlanta next Saturday night or second-seeded Chicago on Sunday.

It was a shocking way for the Saints‘ season to end. They led 17-7 early before their defense was decimated by Hasselbeck’s arm and, finally, Lynch’s run. A season after their first NFL championship, the Saints (11-6) couldn’t match up with an opponent they beat 34-19 in November.

“We did it with our crowd and we fit together so beautifully,” said coach Pete Carroll, who in his first season with the Seahawks led one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. “We kind of expected to win. I know that sounds crazy, but we did expect to win. The fact that it happened, it’s just kind of like, we want to take it in stride and go to the next one.”

The late game Saturday has the New York Jets (11-5) at Indianapolis (10-6). On Sunday, Baltimore is at Kansas City, and Green Bay visits Philadelphia.

Hasselbeck, who wasn’t cleared to return from a hip injury until Thursday, threw for 272 yards and a career playoff best four scores, two to tight end John Carlson. He outdueled Drew Brees, the Super Bowl MVP last February, who had a playoff record 39 completions, throwing 60 times for 404 yards and two scores.

It wasn’t enough, and he didn’t have the running game NFC West champion Seattle got _ especially on Lynch’s TD.

Lynch took a second-down carry up the middle and a half-dozen Saints got their hands on him. None could bring him down, and Lynch tossed in a massive stiff arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter to the turf as he completed the longest touchdown run of his career.

“That was the most unbelievable, unrealistic play I’ve ever seen in the history of football,” Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry said. “It was just unreal. It seems just like a routine football play, then he takes it to another level.”

Lynch finished with 131 yards on 19 carries, the first Seattle back to top 100 yards all season.

“We respect the heck out of the Saints,” Hasselbeck said, “but I think we felt something special all week and today, and we’ll see. It’s a good start for us.”

An unprecedented one, actually: No NFL team with a losing record had won a postseason game.

Ravens (12-4) at Chiefs (10-6)

Kansas City has not won a playoff game since Joe Montana was the quarterback and led the Chiefs to the AFC title game in 1994, a loss to Buffalo. The Chiefs are making their first postseason appearance since 2003.

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