Playoffs Round 2: New Orleans @ Seattle — A Brief History of Playoff Blowout Rematches

The Seahawks’ best game of the 2013 season was their victory over the Saints in Week 13.  The final score was 34-7, and even that, lopsided as it is, doesn’t properly reflect the ass-kickery that went down on Monday Night Football in The Clink.  The Seahawks outgained the Saints 429 yards to 188 yards (6.2 yards-per-play to 3.6 yards-per-play), and they had a 20-point lead at halftime.  When Russell Wilson found Zach Miller for a 60 yard completion, Seattle’s win expectancy went up to 95%, with three minutes left … in the first quarter.  It was King Kong Bundy versus S.D. Jones.

And since the Saints will be back on the shores of the Puget Sound Saturday afternoon for an elimination-game rematch, this all seems relevant.  It seems relevant, but is it?  The answer of course is, who the hell knows?  It’s the NFL — half the time it makes no sense at all, and the other half it makes sense only so that the first half doesn’t make sense by contrast.

With this in mind, I thought I would look back at blowout rematches from years past.  I don’t think it will actually tell us anything meaningful about this week’s game, but it will be fun.  It’s a lark, not analysis.  I’m treating this like the NFL treats gambling lines: entertainment purposes only.

I went back to 1989 (25 years seemed like a nice cutoff) and picked out all cases in which Team A beat Team B by at least 21 points in the regular season, and then the two teams met in the playoffs at Team A’s home stadium.  There were 16 such games, which is nice, because it’s a season’s worth of games.

The good news for ‘Hawks fans (if this actually did mean something) is that Team A went 10-6 in the playoff rematches.  The bad news is that sometimes 10-6 isn’t good enough (just ask Carson Palmer).  During the regular season blowouts Team A won by an average score of 38-10.  During the postseason rematches Team A’s average win went down to 27-20, a healthy margin of victory, to be sure, but not four touchdowns healthy.

The most recent playoff blowout rematch happened in 2010 when the Patriots crushed the Jets 45-3 during the regular season and then lost 21-28 in the divisional round of the playoffs.  I see this game referenced frequently as part of “hey, anything can happen in the postseason” arguments, but what isn’t nearly as well-cited is that the Jets beat the Patriots in the first regular season meeting by two touchdowns (albeit in New Jersey).  The “Jets can beat the Pats” narrative should have already been well-established.  But it wasn’t.  Recency effect, see.

Interestingly — well, somewhat interestingly, anyway — four of the six Team B victories were between division rivals (like the Jets and Patriots).  In three of them, Team B actually won the other regular season game (like the Jets and Patriots).  The only time Team B lost twice during the regular season (at least once by three or more touchdowns) and then beat Team A in the playoffs was in 1998, when Jake Plummer took his Arizona Cardinals into Dallas and upset the Cowboys in the wild card round.  (Bonus point if you can name the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator that year.*)

The only Team B victories over non-divisional rivals came from the ’07 Giants and the ’93 Chiefs.  The ’07 Giants were whupped by the Packers during the regular season 13-35, but took revenge in the playoffs in a game that’s more remember for Tom Coughlin’s cold, raspberry-hued face than it is for anything that happened on the field**.

The story of the ’93 Chiefs is also the story of the ’93 Houston Oilers, a team so dysfunctional NFL Network did an entire A Football Life on their tumultuous season.  The Oilers started the ’93 season 1-4, their one victory being a 31-0 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs.  They then finished the year with 11 straight victories, before being taken out by Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Derrick Thomas and the rest of the Chiefs in a divisional round playoff rematch.  That was the season in which Oilers’ defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan threw a punch (or at least an old man’s approximation thereof) at offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines during a game.  Also, the ’93 Chiefs-Oilers playoff game was the last postseason victory for the Chiefs to date, something that is probably a bit cruel to mention, given what transpired on Saturday.

The Seahawks, as it happens, twice played the role of Team B.  Neither time did they win in the playoffs, although both times they went to overtime.  You know, just to ensure that the losses were as heartbreaking as possible.  In 2003, the ‘Hawks were housed by the Packers 13-35 in the regular season, and then they lost in the playoffs when they got the ball first in overtime and did not score.  They punted.  And then after getting the ball back, Matt Hasselbeck threw a walk-off pick six to Al Harris.  In Hasselbeck’s defense, it might have been receiver Alex Bannister‘s fault for quitting on the route.  Although that begs the question: on a team that had Shaun Alexander, Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, and Koren Robinson in their primes, why are you trying to get the ball to somebody named Alex Bannister in a crucial moment?

In 2006, the ‘Hawks lost another OT classic to the Bears in the playoffs, after losing a non-OT non-classic in the regular season 6-37.  I always remember this game as being Shaun Alexander‘s last hurrah; he went for 108 and two scores against a pretty good D.  I distinctly recall two plays from this game.  One is that Alexander scored a touchdown on a 13-yard draw on 3rd-and-10.  The other is that Alexander lost two yards on 4th-and-1 from the Bears 44 with two minutes left in a tie game, when center Chris Spencer snapped the ball late.  It should have been a false start, but it was hard to see in real time, so the refs regrettably let it play out.  Actually, I remember a third play.  Robbie Gould kicked a 49-yard game-winning field goal that had a long sweeping hook to it.  I tried to scrub this one from my memory but apparently it’s still there, in detail.

The model for playoff blowout rematches the Seahawks should try to follow was laid out by the ’91 Washington Professional Football Team.  Led by the immortal WSU Cougar, Mark Rypien, they won two blowout rematches on their way to claiming the Lombardi Trophy.  They beat the Falcons 24-7 in the divisional round after clobbering them 56-17 in the regular season, and then they smoked the Lions 45-0 in the NFC Championship Game after beating them by only 31 (41-10) in the regular season.  Because the Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 the second week of the season, if things break right, they could be in a position to match the ’91 Redskins with two victories in blowout playoff rematches.

So that’s the goal for the ‘Hawks: live up to the standard set by the best football team of at least the last quarter century.  No problem, right?

-DJG 

*Marc Trestman

**Although I do remember Lawrence Tynes missing two field goals, including a game-winning attempt at the end of regulation, before making the clincher in OT.  I watched this game at a sports bar I used to frequent, and one of the other regulars, a rabid Giants fan, used to scream, “Don’t fuck it up, Tynes!” every Giants kickoff and field goal attempt.  He was apoplectic the entire overtime period, until the very end.  Tynes completely fucked it up … almost.