SEATTLE — The triangular set of stands behind the north end zone are flanked by blue flags with a “12” on them. They stiffly pointed north for the majority of the game Saturday.
Even the field-goal posts in that end bowed in that direction, pushed back by winds reported at 20 mph at kickoff. The hearty breeze was supplemented by sheets of rain. Together, the conditions were a kicker’s nightmare.
New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead had the first punt of the day. The ball slipped through his hands before he corralled it, then got his kick off. The ball acted like something once inflated that had sprung a leak. Morstead’s punt came roaring down after travelling 16 yards.
Seahawks punter Jon Ryan had a similar issue when he kicked into the wind. One of his punts went 24 yards.
No one had more trouble than Saints kicker Shayne Graham. He missed both field goals wide left.
That’s why Steven Hauschka’s 3-for-3 day was all the more impressive. Hauschka came into the game as the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in the league, making 33 of 35 kicks (94.3 percent). One of the misses was blocked.
Saturday, Hauschka hit from 38, 49 and 26 yards out despite what he said were the worst conditions he’s kicked in at CenturyLink Field.
There were adjustments. Ryan, also the Seahawks’ holder, angled the ball to modify the spin so it had more drive. When kicking toward the north end zone, Hauschka played a draw, sending the ball right to have the wind bring it back left.
“Doesn’t get much tougher than that,” Hauschka said. “For the most part, it was coming from the south. But, the gusts were so strong, it would change every once in a while and mess everything up. Kind of had to play it by the moment.”
In a bit of a surprise, left guard James Carpenter was inactive despite being healthy.
The Seahawks selected Carpenter with the 25th overall pick of the 2011 draft to play right tackle. He was moved to left guard, where he started then rotated snaps with Paul McQuistan as the season went on.
His playing time continued to dwindle as McQuistan’s snap count increased. Then, ultimately, he was benched Saturday.
Rookie Michael Bowie started at left guard in Carpenter’s place. Bowie has started at right tackle, right guard and left guard this season.
Bowie found out Monday that he was being inserted at left guard.
“I had all week to prepare,” Bowie said.
The Seahawks selected Bowie in the seventh round of the 2013 draft out of Northeastern State (he first played at Oklahoma State). As such a late selection, Bowie didn’t expect to be in this position.
“I was worried about making the team, not trying to start,” Bowie said. “Feels good, man.”
For the Seahawks, the late-season move of giving a rookie his first start at left guard in a playoff game was an extrapolation of Pete Carroll’s contention that competition is ongoing.
“This was a classic competitive opportunity,” Carroll said. “We just thought with two weeks, if we gave him a shot, he might be ahead at the job at this time. So, after two weeks of looking at him, we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ ”
Tight end Luke Willson (ankle) and safety Chris Maragos (back) were both able to play. Willson said his injured right ankle held up better than he thought it would and he came out of the game fine. ... The only Seahawks injury was Percy Harvin’s concussion. ... A CenturyLink Field-record 68,388 tickets were distributed for Saturday’s game. The previous record was set Dec. 2 versus the Saints, when 68,387 tickets were distributed. ... NFC Championship Game tickets go on sale Monday at 10 a.m.