The Seahawks (7-9) became the first NFL team to win a division title with a losing record. And they will host a playoff game next week, playing the New Orleans Saints at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Qwest Field.
Seattle’s regular season concluded with Charlie Whitehurst taking a knee, then pumping his fist as the city voiced its approval of a victory as unexpected as the playoff berth it secured.
The Seahawks didn’t have their starting quarterback, they didn’t have a winning record, and in the end that didn’t matter at all. Seattle is going to the playoffs after beating St. Louis 16-6 at Qwest Field on Sunday night to win the NFC West in the final regular-season game.
“Was that fun or what?” coach Pete Carroll asked as he began his postgame interview. “Geez. The thing that I’m so proud of this team is they hung together through a lot of messy games.”
Nine losses by 15 points or more, five occurring in the past six games. Starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on the sideline. Despite all that, Seattle never trailed in the game that decided the division title and earned it the right to host the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in a first-round playoff game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Qwest Field.
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This was a signature victory, even if you were just learning some of the names in a game when backups and castoffs played critical roles.
Backup quarterback Whitehurst completed his first five passes and scored the game’s only touchdown with a 4-yard pass to Mike Williams. Backup linebacker Will Herring picked off a fourth-quarter pass from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in Seattle’s half of the field. And Raheem Brock, signed the week before the regular season began, sacked Bradford twice on the Rams’ final possession.
Three field goals from Olindo Mare and one salty performance from Seattle’s defense also helped decide the division.
“We really came together on this championship night and played really, really good ball,” Carroll said.
It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but that’s to be expected. This is the NFC West after all. Marshawn Lynch lost a fumble that led to a Rams field goal in the third quarter, cutting Seattle’s lead to one, and the Seahawks’ offensive line was penalized three times for holding.
But then a running game that had been a running joke for so much of this season found traction, gaining 119 yards in the second half, while the defense held St. Louis to 13 yards rushing in the final two quarters.
Seattle (7-9), which became the first NFL team to win a division title with a losing record, qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Hasselbeck was active for the game, but did not play because of a strained muscle in his hip and backside. He did warm up before the game, looking sharp jogging and throwing.
“Matt did a great job of competing to get ready,” Carroll said. “And he could have played in this football game, and he wanted to badly. I think even up until when we were going out, he was hoping I was going to give him the call. But just the way the whole thing came around, his injury, I just thought he would be too vulnerable. If we didn’t have to play him it would be the best thing for us.”
All week long, Carroll told Whitehurst he would be starting. But not even the coach could imagine how well the quarterback would start this game.
Whitehurst wasn’t quite perfect on the first possession, but he was close enough. His pass to a wide-open Ruvell Martin was slightly underthrown, but the result was still a 61-yard completion, Seattle’s fourth-longest of the season. Whitehurst completed all five passes he attempted on the first possession, passing for 85 yards on the 87-yard touchdown drive. His touchdown pass to Williams put Seattle ahead 7-0.
“It calmed me down a little bit, honestly,” Whitehurst said of the drive. “Gave us the confidence on offense.”
Whitehurst passed for 192 yards, compared to 155 for St. Louis’ Bradford. Whitehurst also rushed for 30 yards — not all that far off Steven Jackson’s total of 45 yards, which paced St. Louis.
Consider that just one more surprising footnote to an unexpected playoff berth.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org