The Seattle Seahawks survived an occasional driving rainstorm, a late onside kick and a ragged second half to hold off the New Orleans Saints 23-15 on Saturday and earn the right to host their second NFC championship game in eight years.
The Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch rushed for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while quarterback Russell Wilson completed 9 of 18 passes for 103 yards. Wilson's most important completion came on a third-and-3 from the Seattle 45-yard line with 2:48 remaining, extending a drive that resulted in Lynch's game-clinching touchdown.
The Saints nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback in the final minutes, with wide receiver Marques Colston catching a touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining and then recovering an onside kick. But on what turned out to be the game's final play, Colston caught a Drew Brees pass at the Seattle 35-yard line, then threw a forward pass that he meant to lateral backward to a teammate with two seconds left -- resulting in a penalty and 10-second runoff.
New Orleans had 396 yards of offense, but the Saints didn't help themselves with two missed field goals and a failed fourth-down conversion attempt in Seattle territory.
The Seahawks will face the winner of Sunday's playoff game between Carolina and San Francisco in the NFC Championship next Sunday in Seattle.
Seattle jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead despite a lackluster offense, and the Saints finally made a game of it with a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive that resulted in a Khiry Robinson touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Robinson's 1-yard run and the resulting two-point conversion on a Mark Ingram run cut the Seattle lead to 16-8 with 13:11 remaining.
Things really looked interesting when an underthrown Brees' deep pass bounced off a pair of Seattle defenders to receiver Robert Meachem for a 52-yard reception to the Seattle 25-yard line with 4:25 remaining.
But the Seahawks held on, thanks in part to Shayne Graham's second missed field goal of the day, which came from 48 yards out with 3:51 remaining.
Seattle responded with a 62-yard drive that was highlighted by Wilson's 24-yard pass to Doug Baldwin on third-and-3. One play later, Lynch broke free for a 31-yard touchdown run to put the Seahawks ahead 23-8 with 2:40 remaining.
Brees hit Colston on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 23-15, and Colston recovered an onside kick at their own 41, but the Saints couldn't finish off the comeback.
Brees completed 22 of 40 passes for 288 yards. He did most of his damage in the fourth quarter, when Brees had 167 yards off 11-of-19 passing and his only touchdown.
The Seahawks jumped out to a 6-0 lead on two Steven Hauschka field goals, then took advantage of a fumble by Saints running back Mark Ingram to set up the game's first touchdown. After Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett forced and recovered the Ingram fumble, Lynch rambled in from 15 yards for a 13-0 lead with 14:17 remaining in the first half.
The Seahawks added a 26-yard field goal, Hauschka's third, with 1:18 remaining in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 16-0 lead.
The Saints had just 34 passing yards in the first 30 minutes.
Through the first six quarters of their two meetings this season, the Seahawks outscored New Orleans 50-7.
NOTES: A few hours before Saturday's game, Saints TE Jimmy Graham had to be separated from a few Seahawks players as they worked out on the field wearing sweatsuits. ... Saints RB Pierre Thomas was among the inactives, missing his second consecutive playoff game because of a chest injury. ... Seahawks WR Percy Harvin (hip) played for only the second time this season but had to be helped off the field twice in the first half. He took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Saints S Rafael Bush on Seattle's opening drive and underwent concussion tests before returning to action in the second quarter. Harvin took another big hit from Saints S Malcolm Jenkins just before halftime and went into the locker room to undergo concussion tests again. He did not return for the second half. ... G James Carpenter, who started 10 games during the regular season, was one of Seattle's seven inactives. Converted OT Michael Bowie started at guard for the second time in three games. ... Saints K Shayne Graham missed a 45-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. Midway through the second quarter, the Saints went for it on fourth-and-4 from the Seattle 29-yard line but turned the ball over when a pass by Saints QB Drew Brees was batted to the ground.