Seahawks safety Jamal Adams strode to the podium after Seattle’s 20-9 victory that clinched the NFC West title Sunday waving a celebratory cigar and making a claim that even a few weeks ago would have bordered on the absurd.
“To me, we’re the best defense in the league,’’ Adams said after the Seahawks rode their defense to an 11-4 record and their first division title since 2016. “And you can quote that. You can do what you want to with it.’’
What Seattle can do now — after a game that, for a day at least, backed up Adams’ boast — is raise another banner, the 11th in team history and fifth since Pete Carroll took over as coach in 2010. Winning the West also means Seattle is assured a top-three seed in the NFC and a home game in the playoffs, likely on wild-card weekend, but with an outside shot still of getting the No. 1 seed.
“This was a great Seahawks day,’’ said Carroll.
One that in the way it occurred would have seemed unfathomable in October, when the Seahawks were giving up yards in numbers on pace to be not only the worst this season but in the 100-year history of the NFL.
But Sunday, it was that same defense — once so mocked and ridiculed — that instead proved immovable and impenetrable, stopping the Rams on four plays once Los Angeles had reached the 2-yard line late in the third quarter, set to tie the score at 13 and swing the momentum.
“There was never a more heroic opportunity than down there on the goal line,’’ said Carroll. “You know, it’s on the 2, first down. And the guys did not let it happen.’’
It took some heroics from Adams just to set it up as he dived to tackle Rams running back Darrell Henderson on a second-down play from the 7, knocking him out of bounds at the 2.
“There was no way I was going to let him walk into that end zone,’’ Adams said.
Henderson was hurt on the play and didn’t return, meaning the Rams had to go with third-team tailback Malcolm Brown as they already were without leading rusher Cam Akers.
Brown lost 2 yards on first down with Seattle rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks continuing his second-half surge by leading the charge on the tackle.
Brown then headed over right tackle again for 3 yards, tripped up again by Adams.
“It’s ‘whatever it takes,’ ’’ Adams said of the thought during that drive.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff then tried to sneak it on third down only to be met by Brooks and K.J. Wright, who said he gambled that a sneak was coming and decided to shoot the gap and “whatever happens is going to happen.’’
What happened was Goff fumbling, and Seattle thinking it might have recovered. After mulling it over, Carroll threw the challenge flag, which if nothing else also had the effect of letting his players gather themselves as the Rams didn’t hesitate in deciding to go for it on fourth down.
“To me it was worth it,’’ Carroll said. “What if they could see something on camera that showed that we had the football?’’
Officials didn’t, and Seattle had to give up a time out.
No matter. On fourth down, Brown tried right tackle again but ran into a pile led by Brooks.
“We were in full-on attack mode,’’ said Carroll. “We were looking for the plays that came up and we were going to go get them and go attack them.’’
Carroll called the goal-line stand “a famous one. One I’ll never forget.’’
On the sideline, Russell Wilson and the offense let out whoops that could be heard clearly in the otherwise eerie quiet of empty Lumen Field.
“We were all fired up,’’ Wilson said. “All shouting on the sidelines. All ecstatic.’’
Wilson had put Seattle ahead with a 4-yard run on the previous possession, breaking a 6-6 halftime tie that accurately portrayed the way the first half was played, with each offense making a few plays here and there but making mistakes at inopportune times — Wilson missing a wide-open Jacob Hollister for a touchdown, Goff making a baffling decision to throw across his body on a first down at Seattle’s 29 that led to a Quandre Diggs interception.
Wilson, though, regained his first-half-of-the-season form to lead two long drives in the second half.
His touchdown capped a 70-yard march, the key play of which was a 45-yard pass from Wilson to David Moore on third-and-eight — the longest play of the day for either team.
“There’s no fear in that throw,’’ said Wilson, who had scrambled out of pressure and appeared as if he could have run for the first down. “You just believe. You shoot it. You let it ride.’’
Then, midway through the fourth quarter, after the Rams got a field goal to cut it to 13-9, Wilson hit on five consecutive throws for 59 yards against a Rams defense that came into the game giving up the fewest passing yards in the NFL, connecting with Hollister for a 13-yard touchdown on third-and-four with 2:51 left to make it 20-9.
Both the touchdown and the goal-line stand came in the same end zone where a year ago the Seahawks came up a yard short of a chance to beat the 49ers and win the West — Hollister stopped just inches away on fourth down.
“It’s got a little poetry right there,’’ said Carroll.
The defense then salted it away with one more stop of the Rams, the fifth consecutive game Seattle held an opponent under 20 points and second consecutive home game in which an opponent didn’t get a touchdown. All from a defense that gave up 30 or more points four times in the first eight games.
“There were times during the season where everybody had enough statistics to go ahead and blow us out and like we weren’t worth anything on defense,’’ Carroll said. “But this defense is good, and they’ve shown it.’’
Whether they are really good enough to back up Adams’ boast of being the best in the NFL will be determined in the games to come. Carroll and veteran Seahawks know the journey has just begun. Seattle, in fact, could well play the Rams again in a wild-card game here in two weeks.
But Sunday they allowed themselves some time to reflect.
Wilson, wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey, seemed particularly emotional after the game, pausing several times to compose himself during his Zoom session with media members, mentioning often the unprecedented obstacles of this COVID-19 impacted season.
“It’s been a challenge but it’s been worth it,’’ Wilson said.
And Wright, the most senior member of the team in his 10th year, was asked by Carroll to speak to the team in the locker room afterward.
He remembered that it was just three years ago the Rams beat the Seahawks here 42-7, a game many pegged as a changing of the guard in the West.
“I said, ‘Just cherish this moment because it doesn’t come around too often,’ ’’ Wright said. “Cherish this moment.’’