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Originally published January 11, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Page modified January 11, 2014 at 8:36 PM

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Defense isn’t perfect, but good enough to stop Saints

After the game, some of the Seahawks defensive players talked about plays they should have made but didn’t. But in the end, they did plenty to beat the New Orleans Saints and advance to the NFC title game.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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On a grim, inhospitable Northwest day, the Seahawks defense played as nasty as the weather.

They stifled Jimmy Graham (again). They stymied Drew Brees (when it counted). They used the wind and the rain as an ally, hunkered down and slogged their way to a performance that was as dominant as it needed to be.

That is to say, not perfect, because perfection wasn’t an option with those slippery conditions. But in the end, with the 23-15 victory safely tucked away, coach Pete Carroll could put the 409 total yards by the Saints into proper context, and say with satisfaction, “There’s really no weakness in this defense at this time.”

Such are the standards of the Seahawks defensive unit, however, that despite blanking the Saints for three quarters and giving up a vast majority of New Orleans’ yards in desperation time, they were focused on their deficiencies afterward.

Carroll didn’t like the way they tackled. Richard Sherman talked of “blunders and slip-ups” on the Saints’ 74-yard drive to their first score.

“We’re going to be disappointed with our performance today, with some of those plays we left out there, some turnovers we left out there,’’ Sherman said. “That’s uncharacteristic of our defense.”

Earl Thomas was frustrated by two potential interceptions that got away, including one in the end zone late in the game that had the added indignity of resulting in an inadvertent knee to the, uh, midsection.

“I don’t know if it was Sherm (Richard Sherman) or Kam (Chancellor), but he can’t be messing with my jewels like that,” he said.

Let the record show he had a twinkle in his eye, but Thomas was not at all happy with letting a big play get away.

“I was this close to playing a great game, a complete game in my eyes,’’ he said. “All I had to do was bring in that interception at the end, but it just keeps me hungry. I felt great out there, in my zone, fluid. Most of all, I’m just glad to get the dub (win). That’s it.”

The Seahawks didn’t let Brees get untracked early, holding him to 34 passing yards in the first half. When he finally got untracked, the Seahawks had built up enough of a cushion to withstand the onslaught.

They didn’t let the weather mess with their heads, though at times it messed with their feet, or helped a Saints runner to wriggle free.

“It was pretty bad, but we live in this, so it really doesn’t matter,’’ said linebacker Bobby Wagner, who was outstanding in slowing down New Orleans’ screen attack.

“It felt fine to me,’’ Chancellor added. “When the conditions are like that, that’s when you block it out and play harder. That’s how I feel. It’s football. You have to line up and play the guy across from you. The stuff coming out of the sky? It doesn’t matter to me.”

Most tellingly, the Seahawks didn’t allow New Orleans’ standout tight end, Jimmy Graham, to become a factor, similar to their earlier rout of the Saints. This time, Graham caught just one pass, and it came with 24 seconds remaining.

The key, Thomas said, was “just being normal. From the first game, everyone thought it was a big mystery how we were going to do it. We’re not going to change for anybody. We have a great scheme here in Seattle.”

Graham didn’t do himself any favors by initiating a pregame confrontation with Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin. After explaining their scheme in covering Graham, Wagner said, “His trash talk before the game kind of helped that, too. I wasn’t there. I just heard about it. It definitely fired us up a little bit.”

Added Sherman: “He said he was going to run us over or something. ... It’s hard coming in here and talking a big game. It’s hard. You’re bringing it to the wolves’ den. It’s a lamb coming to the wolves and throwing meat at them. Slapping them in the face. He got us riled up. He woke up the DB group, and that’s the last group you want to wake up.”

As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, the Seahawks defenders fed off Marshawn Lynch, their kindred spirit on the other side of the ball.

“It’s just like how him and a lot of guys on the offense feed off me when I lay the boom out there,’’ Chancellor said. “They say they get revved up. When Marshawn is running like Beast Mode, it’s the same thing. We feel the energy and try to deliver the same hits.”

The Seahawks were fierce but fallible on defense. They know they’ll have to tighten up next week to take the final step to the Super Bowl.

“It still feels like a dream; this whole journey feels like a dream,’’ Chancellor said. “But it’s something I envisioned a long time ago, something me and Earl talked about a long time ago. This is what we want to do, and we’re not going to let anybody come in our way and take this from us.”

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or On Twitter @StoneLarry

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