The Rams’ six possessions inside the Seattle 20 netted just 10 points with the Seahawks defense making one big play after another.
LOS ANGELES — The game began with a chop, Earl Thomas’ now signature move he readily admits to stealing from Bruce Lee movies that knocked the ball out of Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley’s hand and prevented an early Rams touchdown.
It ended with a drop, Rams rookie receiver Cooper Kupp’s diving attempt to reel in a pass from Jared Goff in the end zone that would likely have given Los Angeles the victory in an early test of NFC West supremacy.
In between it featured so many twists and turns that players and coaches could barely remember them all — Seattle coach Pete Carroll later thanked a reporter for bringing up a tackle made by quarterback Russell Wilson that stopped a Los Angeles pick-six because he’d forgotten to mention it to the team.
The Seahawks and Rams met for the 38th time Sunday. Seattle leads the series, 23-15. But the Seahawks had been 0-3 vs. the Rams in Los Angeles.
But when it was over, it was the Seattle defense left standing tallest, having withstood every possible Los Angeles challenge. That allowed the Seahawks to leave with a 16-10 victory and a tie atop the NFC West standings at 3-2, but feeling like they are in better position than that having gotten a triumph over the Rams in Los Angeles.
What did it say about the Seattle defense that it let what had been the highest-scoring offense in the NFL at 35.5 points a game score just one field goal on five red-zone drives?
“That we are really tough,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “That we are relentless. That we stay together no matter what and that we are fighters.’’
That about covers it.
The Seattle defense also stopped the Rams on three plays from the 20 as the game ended and finished with five forced turnovers.
It’s a defense that also lives by mottos and throughout the game many of them flashed through the players’ heads.
Thomas recalled one — that as long as there is an inch of grass to defend to not give up — as he saw Gurley break free down the sideline on a run from the 12-yard line on Los Angeles’ first possession of the game.
As Gurley held the ball out to hit the pylon and try to score a touchdown, Thomas raced over and chopped at his biceps, forcing a fumble. And when the ball went through the end zone, what looked like a quick 7-0 Rams’ lead instead became Seattle ball at the 20.
“It would have made the game a whole different game,’’ said Carroll.
The play was similar to one Thomas made against the Rams and running back Benny Cunningham in Seattle in 2014 that also prevented a touchdown. Thomas also recalled that play, saying later the play Sunday felt as if it was in slow motion.
“It seemed like it was the same corner of the end zone when we were at home and I had a similar play,’’ Thomas said. “Just fighting and clawing. We always talk about giving us an inch and I saw a chance to strike on the ball. I did a great job of watching those Bruce Lee movies and it kind of carried over to the football field.’’
Said Gurley: “I should have just lowered my shoulder.’’
Said Thomas’ teammate Richard Sherman: “I’d never seen that play before Earl did it the first time. Never seen anybody able to do that and he’s done it twice and both against the Rams.’’
The Rams were hardly deflated, though. They rebounded to take a 10-0 lead, appearing set to make a statement that maybe the torch in the NFC West had been passed.
But an early turning point came when Wilson, with some help from J.D. McKissic, tracked down Rams safety John Johnson as he appeared headed for a pick-six. Instead, Johnson was tackled at the 19 and the Seattle defense forced a field goal.
Wilson then was able to jump-start the Seattle offense and lead three consecutive scoring drives to end the first half and begin the second to give the Seahawks a 13-10 advantage.
The Seattle offense did nothing more, going three-and-out three consecutive times to start the fourth quarter, leaving it again and again to the defense to stop the Rams.
Reminded later that he had said a few weeks ago that the defense was willing to carry the team while the offense finds itself, Thomas said, “Yeah man, it was a tough one. We don’t need it like that all the time.’’
A Sheldon Richardson interception, a Thomas interception and then a Frank Clark forced fumble appeared to leave Seattle with the game in hand, ahead 16-10 on Blair Walsh’s third field goal with 1:09 left.
But then the Rams improbably moved, using a 35-yard Goff pass to Tyler Higbee to get inside Seattle territory and another of 20 to Robert Woods to get to the 20-yard line with 35 seconds left.
On third down, Kupp broke past Seattle cornerback Justin Coleman and into a surprisingly wide-open patch of the end zone. Thomas took the blame for that, saying he tried to coerce Goff into another throw — Thomas appeared to instead cover Rams tight end Gerald Everett.
“He kind of looked me off,’’ Thomas said. “I was trying to bait him because I thought I saw a matchup that he liked and he did a great job of looking me off and coming back to the seam.’’
The pass, with eight seconds left, was a little long and Kupp had to dive for it, the ball just going off his hands. A tough catch, to be sure, but Kupp later said, “If I’m putting my hands on the ball I’ve got to make the play.’’
Said Thomas: “I was just happy that he dropped it. I had no control of the play once I was out of position.’’
Carroll shrugged off whether Seattle got lucky.
“It’s just football,’’ he said, while acknowledging, “that’s as exciting as the game gets.’’
Maybe even more exciting for the Seahawks?
Entering the bye week having shown that, for now, the NFC West still runs through Seattle.
Bob Condotta and Matt Calkins break down the Seahawks’ 16-10 win