SEATTLE -- Seattle Seahawks
wide receiver Golden Tate diverged from his usual path toward the home locker room at CenturyLink Field, cut toward the west side of the stadium and began slapping high-fives with anyone he could find.
He ended up doing a Lambeau Leap-style catapult into the seats and was quickly mobbed by several jubilant fans.
After whiffing on their first two chances at an NFC West title, the Seahawks finally were able to celebrate a season for the ages.
A 27-9 win over the St. Louis Rams
finally put a stranglehold on the NFC's top seed for the Seahawks, and the newly crowned NFC West champions secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"The work we put in since our loss against Atlanta (in last year's playoffs) has been incredible," Tate told reporters a few minutes after his celebration in the stands. "We've still got things to do, but we're excited. We're excited to have homefield advantage. It's a nice reward for our season."
Seattle's top-ranked defense stymied the Rams' offense to the tune of 13 rushing yards and 158 yards of total offense while keeping St. Louis (7-9) out of the end zone until the game was well in hand during a hard-hitting affair that featured 19 penalties and one ejection.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch
gained 97 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, while quarterback Russell Wilson
completed 15 of 23 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown.
"This week was definitely a championship week, and we came out at a high level," Wilson said. "... We were able to come up with a huge win and be NFC West champs."
The Seahawks (13-3) had come up short in two previous opportunities to win the division and lock up homefield. Sunday's win means Seattle, which matched its franchise-high total for wins in a season, will host the lowest remaining seed in the NFC's divisional round on Jan. 11 or 12.
The Seahawks jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead on linebacker Malcolm Smith
's 37-yard interception return touchdown and a pair of Steven Hauschka field goals. Seattle held the Rams to just 54 yards of total offense -- the St. Louis ground game had minus-2 -- during the first 30 minutes.
Smith's touchdown came after his second interception in as many weeks. He appeared on his way to a return touchdown one week earlier but tripped up and fell short of the goal line in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals
"I wasn't going to let it happen twice," Smith said after scoring his first career interception-reurn touchdown.
The penalty-filled game nearly spiraled out of control with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter. One play after a near brawl broke out between the teams on the Seattle sideline, the Rams were flagged for three consecutive dead-ball, unsportsmanlike penalties between snaps.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree was assessed a penalty for jawing with the Seahawks as the teams came to the line of scrimmage, then Rams teammate Kendall Langford
received a 15-yard penalty and game ejection for making contact with an official. Langford inadvertently knocked the hat off back judge Steve Freeman while motioning with his arm before receiving a second flag a few seconds later for throwing his helmet on the field.
Langford jawed with several Seattle fans as he was led into the visiting locker room. The Seahawks, who moved from the Rams' 11-yard line to the 1 after the three penalties were assessed, scored two plays later on a Lynch 2-yard run to take a 20-3 lead.
After the game, Langford said he felt remorseful for the incident but added that he did not agree with the ejection.
"At the end of the day, we can't let ourselves get all these penalties," he said after the Rams were flagged for 12 penalties. "But I'm not going to say that all these penalties were good calls."
During a span of just over a minute, the Rams ended up receiving six personal-foul or unsportsmanlike penalties. For the game, the two teams combined for 12 penalties for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct.
"They were trying to get us into penalties and throw us off our game," Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor
Wilson's 47-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate with 9:14 remaining gave Seattle a 27-3 lead.
The Rams' only touchdown came with 4:13 remaining, when tight end Jared Cook
caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Kellen Clemens
to cap off a 13-play, 71-yard drive. It marked the first time in two meetings this season that the Rams have gotten into the end zone against the Seattle defense.
"It's kind of a stepping stone for something," Cook said of finally scoring a touchdown against the Seahawks. "We have to remember what this (loss) feels like and come back with a vengeance."
St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein kicked a 36-yard field goal early in the third quarter to get the Rams on the board.
Clemens completed 21 of 30 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. St. Louis didn't convert a third down until midway through the fourth quarter and was 2 for 11 on third downs for the game.
The Rams' running game was virtually non-existent, thanks to a Seattle defense that kept St. Louis guessing.
"They came out in a defense we weren't really expecting," Cook said. "They were slanting a lot (toward the tight end), and it caught us off guard."
Chancellor said the Seahawks didn't do anything out of the ordinary in preparing for the St. Louis ground game.
"We're disciplined in what we do," he said. "You've just got to be able to stop it."
The win secured Seattle's second NFC West title in coach Pete Carroll's four seasons as head coach.
What the Seahawks said
"This whole thing is a dream. It feels good right now." -- Safety Kam Chancellor, on Seattle earning the top seed for the NFC playoffs.
"Our goal every year is to win the NFC West, and we accomplished that, so we can check that off our list. But we still have a lot to do." -- Quarterback Russell Wilson.
"Whoever we're playing (in the postseason), we're getting ready to go and getting our bodies right back to order. I'm excited to have our games here (at home)." -- Linebacker Malcolm Smith.
"We knew coming in that their offense is pretty much their running game, and on defense we take pride in ourselves being able to stop the run. That was a big focus, and fortunately we were able to slow them down." -- Linebacker Cliff Avril.
What the Rams said
"I don't agree with the call (to eject me from the game), but they made it. It's unfortunate to think I was ejected from the game. ... It was that kind of game." -- Defensive tackle Kendall Langford.
"There are a lot of positives going into this offseason, going into the 2014 season. I am excited to see it, excited to see how guys continue to develop, continue to work." -- Quarterback Kellen Clemens.
"I think every division game we played this year, there was a lot of chippiness. Not as much as this one, but (there) was a lot. That's what happens when you play a division opponent. Things get heated." -- Tight end Jared Cook.
"I wonder where we could have been if we could have had more games left to play. We definitely became a really good team." -- Tight end Lance Kendricks.
"Overall, I can stand up here and be proud of (quarterback Kellen Clemens') efforts since Sam (Bradford) went down -- on the practice field, and in each and every game. He kept this team alive after Sam went down." -- Coach Jeff Fisher.
What we learned about the Seahawks
1. Despite a Pro Bowl quarterback (Russell Wilson) and running back (Marshawn Lynch), Seattle will have to ride its top-ranked defense in the postseason. The defense really came into its own recently, and the impressive performance turned in against the run Sunday may send shivers down the spines of NFC running backs who must to travel to Seattle in the playoffs.
2. CenturyLink Field retains its magic. The Seahawks saw their 14-game home winning streak snapped by the Arizona Cardinals one week earlier, but the 27-9 win over the Rams again showed just how dominant Seattle can be at home. Wilson is now 15-1 at his home stadium, and the thought of playing as many as two postseason home games puts the Seahawks' confidence in overdrive heading into the playoffs.
What we learned about the Rams
1. The team can't afford to give up on Sam Bradford just yet. For all the good backup Kellen Clemens did this season, the Rams' offense was a shell of itself when the running game wasn't working. If Bradford is back and healthy next season, and wide receiver Tavon Austin is ready to contribute on a weekly basis, St. Louis might have something with which to work on that side of the ball.
2. The Rams need to be more disciplined, particularly on defense. Several misconduct penalties on that side of the ball sent Sunday's game spiraling out of control, and things nearly got ugly when defensive lineman Kendall Langford was ejected for making contact with an official. Upon hearing he was ejected, Langford spiked his helmet to the ground and had to be held back from going after the hecklers at Seattle's CenturyLink Stadium.
With a front seven that can match up with just about any in football, the biggest thing keeping the Rams' defense from being really special is discipline.
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