The most unprecedented season in Seahawks history turned into one of the most disappointing Saturday, thanks to a stunning, 30-20 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card playoffs.
Thus ended with a whimper a season that began with Super Bowl dreams and included the best start in team history at 5-0 and the first division title since 2016.
Those all feel like consolation prizes after Seattle was pushed around from the start by the same Rams team it had defeated at Lumen Field 13 days before to claim the NFC West title.
The Seahawks celebrated that victory heartily, with safety Jamal Adams memorably bringing a victory cigar to his postgame Zoom news conference.
It was an image that lingered with the Rams.
“Two weeks ago you saw them smoking cigars and getting all excited about beating us and winning the division, and we’re able to come up here and beat them in their own place,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff told reporters Saturday. “It feels good.”
And maybe that image fueled the Rams as they pushed the Seahawks around all day at an eerily empty and quiet Lumen Field because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Rams held the Seahawks to a season-low 278 yards and forced Russell Wilson into one of the worst passing days of his career. And they did just enough on offense to snap a 10-game Seattle’s home playoff winning streak.
The previous team to beat the Seahawks at home in the playoffs? These same Rams, though then in St. Louis, following the 2004 season.
Seattle had been 6-0 at home in the playoffs under coach Pete Carroll, who said he could hardly comprehend what he had just seen.
“This football season was supposed to just keep going for us,” Carroll said. “That’s what we were planning. … So it’s really frustrating to lose. The rudeness of this, there’s nothing like it.”
Seattle has not advanced past the second week of the playoffs since losing the Super Bowl following the 2014 season.
“You get to this point (being the host of a playoff game), and it’s just like I haven’t been able to make it past the second round yet,” said receiver Tyler Lockett, who arrived in 2015. “I mean, that’s frustrating.”
Even more frustrating for the Seahawks is that they appeared to have all the edges. They were essentially healthy, other than Adams playing with what he revealed was a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The Rams were starting backup John Wolford at quarterback, just his second NFL appearance, because Goff had thumb surgery to repair a break suffered against the Seahawks on Dec. 27.
And Wolford was knocked out of the game Saturday because of a neck injury late in the first quarter on a hit by Adams, who said later he made sure Wolford knew he had no intention to hurt him. Wolford was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons but was back in the Rams’ locker room celebrating after the game.
That forced Goff to play, but he shrugged off the injury to complete 9 of 19 passes for 155 yards — and, most important, no turnovers. He was bolstered by a Rams running game that churned out 164 yards.
Wilson, meanwhile, spent much of the game as the Seahawks quarterback running for his life. He was sacked five times, hit 10 times and completed just 11 of 27 passes for 174 yards.
And most critically, Wilson threw an interception in the second quarter that was returned for a touchdown when he tried to hit DK Metcalf on a quick screen. But Rams cornerback Darious Williams — who had picked off Wilson twice in an L.A. victory over Seattle in November — stepped through an attempted block by Freddie Swain to intercept the ball and return it for a touchdown that put the Rams ahead 13-3 in the second quarter.
The Seahawks would later lose a fumble on a punt return by D.J. Reed that led to another Rams touchdown. It was the fifth time this season the Seahawks had two or more turnovers in a game, and they lost all five.
“The two turnovers were really costly,” Carroll said.
So was Seattle’s inability to do anything on offense. The Seahawks were 2 for 15 trying to convert on third down, had only two of 14 drives go longer than 27 yards — one in garbage time after it was 30-13 — and had five three-and-outs.
Wilson rebounded from the pick-six to hit Metcalf for a 51-yard touchdown on the next drive to make it 13-10. But a Seattle defensive breakdown on a third-and-nine on the next drive allowed a 44-yard completion from Goff to Cam Akers and led to a 5-yard TD run by Akers that made it 20-10 at halftime.
Akers, who did not play in the division-clinching victory for Seattle because of an injury, finished with 131 yards rushing and 45 receiving.
But it was mostly the Rams defense — which led the NFL in fewest points and yards allowed this season — that won this one, especially with its dominant front. Tackle Aaron Donald wreaked havoc until leaving because of an abdomen issue early in the third quarter. He had two sacks, as did end Leonard Floyd.
Wilson had his second-lowest passing-yardage total of the season, in a game that continued a downward trend since midseason when he was considered a leading NFL MVP candidate.
“It was really hard on him,” Carroll said. “The coverage was good, and we weren’t able to function clean enough.”
One moment of not functioning well came when the Seahawks faced a fourth-and-one at their 34 with 9:32 left, the Rams having just kicked a field goal to make it 23-13. Chris Carson was stopped for no gain on the previous play, but guard Damien Lewis was injured, leaving the Seahawks time to figure out what to do.
Seattle broke the huddle with just five seconds on the play clock, and it appeared they didn’t get the play off in time. But that didn’t matter, because Jordan Simmons was called for a false start.
Carroll took blame, saying he got in the middle of the discussion of what to do and that created a delay. He said he thought about calling time out but decided a punt wasn’t the worst option, either.
“Just wasn’t clear enough,” Carroll said before downplaying its importance. “I mean, it’s one play.”
True, but after the Rams were stopped on the next series, Reed fumbled during the punt return, and the Rams scored on a Goff pass to Robert Woods to make it 30-13 with 4:46 left. And that was that.
Wilson didn’t meet media until roughly two hours after the game ended, and when he did had not showered or gotten into dress clothes, indicating he’d spent the time in between talking to coaches and players and others he may not see again for a while.
He also then defended what the team had done, while making clear he was disappointed in the ending.
“You guys can write whatever you want but the reality is is that we have a great football team and I think we have great guys,” Wilson said. “But we didn’t play great today. “
Carroll, meanwhile, credited the team for handling the COVID-19 complications this season but expressed worry over how his players will handle everything without the structure of the season, as they enter the offseason earlier than expected.
“We’re going to have meetings tomorrow and come back and try to put it into a little bit more perspective,” Carroll said. “But really disappointed in this outcome.”