The Rams tried to get inside their heads.
But when it ended, it was the Seahawks walking off the field wearing the crown they had been working for all season, their 27-9 win over St. Louis clinching the NFC West title and home-field advantage through the playoffs.
Seattle finished the regular season with a 13-3 record that ties the 2005 team for the best in franchise history, and gets a bye the first weekend of the playoffs before returning to play a home game Jan. 11 at 1:35 p.m. against Green Bay, San Francisco or New Orleans.
“It feels good,” said safety Earl Thomas. “But we still have some work to do.”
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Indeed, it was a rather muted celebration in the locker room after Seattle’s eighth division title, the second time the Seahawks have won home-field advantage in the playoffs. The other came in 2005, when Seattle won two home games to get to its only Super Bowl. This team hopes to duplicate that feat.
“We haven’t done anything yet, in our opinion,” said quarterback Russell Wilson. “Our goal every year is to win the NFC West, and that’s our mindset, and so once we accomplish that we can check that off the list. But we still have a lot more to do.”
The Seahawks got plenty of practice Sunday reining in their emotions during a sometimes-bizarre game that featured numerous bouts of pushing and shoving after the whistle. The Rams drew 12 penalties, including the ejection of defensive tackle Kendall Langford for making contact with an official in the third quarter.
The Seahawks said they knew that the Rams, playing out the string of their eventual 7-9 season, might try to turn the game into a literal slugfest.
“We understood coming into the game that they were going to do some crazy stuff,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner. “We didn’t know what. But we knew they didn’t really have anything to play for with their season over. So we just had to keep our composure.”
Seattle largely did that and focused on the task at hand, particularly a defense that held the Rams to just 13 yards rushing, tying a Seahawks team record set in 1990 against Green Bay.
That marked a vast turnaround from Seattle’s 14-9 win at St. Louis on Oct. 28 when the Rams rushed for 200.
“I knew they ran on us the first time,” said Wagner, who led Seattle with 12 tackles. “I took it personal to make sure they didn’t run on us again.”
The defense also helped quell any early anxiety for a team that had lost in two earlier opportunities to sew up the West and home-field advantage. Linebacker Malcolm Smith picked off Kellen Clemens’ pass on St. Louis’ first possession and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.
“I wasn’t going to be three yards away this time,” said Smith, who was stopped at the 3-yard line in last week’s loss to Arizona, after which the Seahawks were unable to punch it in.
Added coach Pete Carroll: “The difference between this week and last week, you knock that one in.”
Also different this week was an offense that was able to finally wear down the Rams.
Seattle led 13-0 at the half, adding two Steven Hauschka field goals in the second quarter. Still, each felt like something of a defeat with the Seahawks unable to get in the end zone after getting inside the St. Louis 10.
After St. Louis used a 32-yard punt return to set up a field goal that made it 13-3, Seattle’s running game and the Rams’ testiness finally broke the game open. After Seattle had reached the St. Louis 23, four St. Louis personal fouls — including the ejection of Langford — moved the ball to 1. Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run two plays later to make it 20-3.
Early in the fourth quarter, Seattle could finally breathe easy after Wilson hit Golden Tate for a 47-yard touchdown in a play strikingly similar to the 80-yard hookup that beat the Rams in St. Louis. Each time, Tate ran a deep route down the sideline and then outmaneuvered St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins to make the catch and race into the end zone.
This time, though, there was no taunting by Tate, only celebrating by the Seahawks, who had insisted all week that there was nothing to worry about despite the loss to the Cardinals the previous Sunday that put their goals at risk (as it turned out, San Francisco’s win at Arizona meant the Seahawks did indeed need to beat the Rams to win the West).
“We know we had a couple shots at it earlier and didn’t get that done, so it was frustrating,” Carroll said. “When it came time to finish, we did it. Real proud of that.”
So, too, were the players in the leave-no-doubt manner in which the win was accomplished.
“After last week’s game, we wanted to send a message that even though we had a loss, it’s still going to be hard to win here,” Wagner said. “Now we know that the road through the playoffs is coming to us. And the fans and us, we are going to be ready.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.