Just as they did the first time these two teams met at CenturyLink Field last month, the Seahawks and Rams dueled but Seattle came up short. Still, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll chose to focus firmly on all the silver linings he could find.

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LOS ANGELES — The Seahawks have played 120 of the most physically-bruising and mentally-challenging minutes possible this season against the team with the best record in the NFL: the Los Angeles Rams.

They’ve gained 463 yards rushing against the Rams, scored 62 points, and been tied or ahead for all but 28 minutes and 21 seconds of the two games that featured a whopping 12 lead changes.

They’ve also lost twice, each time watching the Rams make a play on a fourth down in the final two minutes — one on offense, one on defense — to finally seal the victory.

RAMS 36SEAHAWKS 31


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But if the big picture in the standings is of a 4-5 team with a tough road to make the playoffs — and no realistic shot at the NFC West (the Rams need only two more victories to clinch it regardless of what Seattle does), Seahawks coach Pete Carroll preferred to see another big picture after the team’s latest what-might-have-been.

After Seattle’s 36-31 defeat against the Rams on Sunday, Carroll opened his postgame news conference saying, “I really loved that football game today.”

Why?

Because the Seahawks never backed down, Carroll said, going from a 12-point deficit with 5:49 left, to standing at the Rams’ 35 with 26 seconds remaining and one last shot to take the lead and maybe get a victory.

“I think the whole stadium was nervous, to be honest with you, on their end,’’ said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

Carroll loved that Seattle rushed for 273 yards even without starting tailback Chris Carson and starting right guard D.J. Fluker — their most yards since getting 350 against the Giants in 2014, and the most ever in a Seahawks defeat. Carroll also loved how the defense got one last stop when it knew the Seahawks’ offense needed to get a last shot with the ball.

“There ain’t no negative coming out of this thing,’’  Carroll said. “There is always the opportunity to do better and we have to figure out a way to capture those. But that’s not the essence. The essence right now is fighting and believing and knowing that we can get this done.”

Maybe you can view that as just the perpetually positive Carroll seeing no choice but to spin the positive with another game on the docket Thursday against Green Bay. (A team that preaches “no time to dwell” really has none right now.)

But Carroll spoke with an excitement that contrasted sharply with the disappointment of the loss last week to the Chargers, buoyed that Seattle hadn’t let that frustrating defeat color the way it played against the Rams.

The Seahawks drove 75 yards for touchdowns the first two times they had the ball Sunday and were sparked by a breakout game from rookie running back Rashaad Penny, who had 108 yards on 12 carries.

“There wasn’t anybody on the field who didn’t bust their ass today,’’ Carroll said. “Everybody did.’’

But as Carroll allowed, “We have to make (that effort) win for us now.’’

Maybe effort would have translated into a ‘W’ on Sunday if just one of a handful of plays had gone the other way.

Among the most critical:

  • After Seattle had retaken the lead at 21-20 late in the third quarter, it forced the Rams into a third-and-15 from their own 46. Inexplicably, receiver Robert Woods broke wide open against Seattle’s zone to catch a 35-yard pass — the second time in two weeks Seattle has given up a third-and-15 or longer — leading to a touchdown two plays later that put the Rams ahead for good.

“Oh we just screwed up the zone drop,’’ Carroll said. “Just busted the drop. Bit on the wrong route. Just a fundamental error. Just screwed it up. That should never have happened, but it did.’’

  • After driving to kick a field goal that cut the lead to 26-24 with 9:56 left, the Seahawks tried to catch the Rams off guard with an onside kick. Only, Sebastian Janikowski basically kicked the ball right to Los Angeles receiver Josh Reynolds.

“Let me tell you this, if it looked like that during the week, we never would have called it,’’ Carroll said. “It looked great all week long, never missed it one time. That wasn’t the ball we are supposed to hit. … Thought we had a great chance to surprise them.’’

The Rams used the gift to drive for a field goal that made it 29-24 with 7:39 left.

  • On their next drive, the Seahawks faced third-and-three at their own 32, going with an empty backfield set. The Rams’ Dante Fowler, who had kept two Seattle drives alive earlier in the game with personal-foul penalties (one of which came after the whistle), raced around left tackle Duane Brown to hit Wilson as he was throwing and force a fumble that Fowler got credit for recovering at the 9-yard line.

“I thought I had a pretty good block on him,’’ Brown said. “I thought I had him pretty deep up the field. … Great play by him. It sucks. It sucks. Put them in great position. They scored the next play. So it can’t happen. … Got to do something better.’’

Indeed, the Rams took a 36-24 lead on a Brandin Cooks’ 9-yard run on the next play that appeared to put the game away with 5:49 left.

  • But not so fast. Seattle first drove 90 yards in 12 plays against an admittedly soft Rams’ defense to cut the lead to 36-31 with 1:56 left on Wilson’s third touchdown pass of the day — this one for 3 yards to Mike Davis.

Seattle’s defense came through, forcing its only three-and-out to get the ball back at the 25, with 1:24 left. The Seahawks then used a 29-yard Wilson-to-Tyler-Lockett pass and a Wilson run to get to the 35 with 39 seconds remaining.

Just as last week against the Chargers, the Seahawks suddenly seemed on the verge of potentially turning a late double-digit deficit into an improbable victory.

“There was never a doubt in our minds,’’ said tight end Nick Vannett. “As long as Russ has the ball in his hands.’’

But spiking the ball to stop the clock wasted first down, and then incompletions to David Moore and Vannett made it fourth-and-one-last-chance, with 26 seconds remaining.

Wilson tried to escape a heavy rush from blitzing Los Angeles linebacker Samson Ebukam and Aaron Donald, but as Donald closed in around the 35, Wilson fired and threw wildly over the head of Lockett at about the 15.

“I think Aaron was chasing me down,’’ said Wilson, who tallied a season-high 92 rushing yards. “I was going to run it, but I didn’t think I could get it because somebody else was coming in. … Just trying to make a play before I got tackled. Didn’t work out.’’

The Rams celebrated wildly as the ball fell to the turf — their jubilant manner reminiscent of another postgame frenzy, after they’d converted a fourth down to clinch a 33-31 victory over the Seahawks last month in Seattle.

But if the Rams were victorious, Carroll insisted the Seahawks were not defeated.

“The fight that we have shown, the competitiveness that we are all about is going to give us a chance to do something really special if we keep hanging and we keep believing,’’ Carroll said. “And that’s the message here.’’

(Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times)