The Seahawks sensed that the Rams’ game plan on Sunday involved more than X’s and O’s. There was a tease involved — a “trap,” in the words of Kam Chancellor — designed to turn the game into a backyard brawl.
“I thought they were trying to push our buttons and make us do something silly,” said Golden Tate.
They felt the Rams wanted to see if they could make Seattle’s aggressiveness work against them, as it has at times in the past. Get them to lose their cool, fight back and pay the price.
This was chippiness writ large — and it turned into a referendum on the Seahawks’ ability to show restraint in the face of a feisty foe intent upon pushing the limits of decorum.
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“It wasn’t classy,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “That wasn’t football. A lot of that was garbage. We ain’t going to put up with that (expletive).”
But for the most part, the Seahawks responded not by fighting the Rams back in kind, but by playing better than them. In the process, the Seahawks gave a clinic on how to play physical football, but do it within the rules.
“They want to prove they’re tough, but the only way you really prove that you’re tough for football is to prove it on the field,” said Michael Bennett. “I think we do that every week.”
Staying above the fray has not always been the Seahawks’ strong suit; self-control can be a challenge to a team that plays with passion bordering on recklessness; with verve and, yes, ego.
There’s a fine line between being aggressive and out of control, and the Seahawks have not always been able to straddle it. It’s not by accident they entered the game as the most-penalized team in the NFL.
But it is a measure of the Seahawks’ growth and maturity that they didn’t take the bait in a game they needed to wrap up the division title and home field throughout the playoffs.
In the end, in fact, it was the Rams who lost their cool and composure, degenerating into a hot-headed mess of unsportsmanlike-conduct flags, with one ejection.
“The thing I was most proud of is we stayed level-headed,’’ Earl Thomas said. “We didn’t get caught up in all that. We didn’t stoop down to their level, and that’s going to take us a long way.”
Said fullback Michael Robinson: “There were times where we could have got in some trouble with those guys, but we kind of let them do their thing. They messed up, not us.”
With the playoffs coming, the intensity is only going to get turned up with each passing week. In that sense, this game was a needed reminder of the value of keeping your head when everyone around you is losing theirs.
“We knew it was going to be a chippy, scrappy game,’’ special-teams standout Chris Maragos said. “It’s hard in those moments, because you’re competing, going as hard as you can, and when guys are doing extra stuff, you really want to do something back to them.
“But that’s just a part of our team. We play so aggressive, but we have guys who are smart and who understand the situation. We were just letting them shoot themselves in the foot, and it gave us a great advantage today.”
The very act of holding back — or being held back — became a form of bonding for the Seahawks.
“We all kind of understand each other,’’ Maragos said. “If we see a guy about to do something, we’re pulling each other off. We’re really looking out for each other out there. Again, it’s a big advantage for us.”
Added linebacker Heath Farwell: “That brought our team closer, when you have to pull each other off piles, and protect each other. It’s just really cool how we kept our composure.”
Two examples show how far the Seahawks have come in this regard, though it’s still a work in progress. Lineman Breno Giacomini, who in the past has been the Seahawks’ poster boy for blowing up, resisted the urge to fight back. In fact, Giacomini worked to calm down more frazzled teammates — though he couldn’t resist the urge to wave goodbye to Rams’ defensive tackle Kendall Langford when he was ejected in the third quarter.
“A few years ago, it was all on me, getting those 15-yarders, and this and that,” Giacomini said. “But we’ve turned it around. We’re trying to really play smart. It’s one of our mottos, just keep playing smart.”
Then there’s Tate, who couldn’t resist taunting the Rams on the way to a touchdown when they met in St. Louis — only to draw a costly taunting penalty and a reprimand from coach Pete Carroll.
On Sunday, Carroll said his goal was for the Seahawks to play with “championship poise.” And when Tate scored on another long touchdown pass, there was no showboating.
“At the end of the day, it was a big game, and a win was way more valuable than any chirping or any cheap shots,” Tate said.
That’s a motto the Seahawks can carry into the playoffs.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry