Seattle is first division champ with losing recordBy TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer Monday, Jan 3, 2011
SEATTLE (AP)—Leave it to Pete Carroll to find a connection between the BCS and the NFL’s playoff structure.
Both have proven quite fruitful for the Seattle Seahawks coach.
“Whether it’s in college, in the BCS, or here in the NFL system, this is the system and I don’t give a crap about that. We just played it out and this is what happened,” Carroll said late Sunday night. “I’m sure that some other teams are a little disappointed in that, but there are some teams that are disappointed in the BCS system as well, but you just play it out the best you can.”
In his first year back in the NFL, Carroll is headed to the playoffs—and with quite the dubious distinction as the first sub-.500 division champs.
Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst(notes) threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams on Seattle’s first drive, Olindo Mare(notes) kicked three field goals and the Seahawks smothered St. Louis rookie quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) in a 16-6 win Sunday night to claim the NFC West title.
It’s the Seahawks’ first division title since 2007 and secures a home playoff date Saturday against defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans, which beat Seattle 34-19 in Week 11.
Seattle finished a laughable 7-9 and tied with St. Louis, but won the title thanks to a better division record than St. Louis, 4-2 vs. 3-3.
And the Seahawks are not about to be embarrassed by their situation.
“There is no apologies for making it into the playoffs. The easiest way to make it to the playoffs is to win your division, period, point-blank,” Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy(notes) said. “We did that.”
Critics have gladly taken shots at the NFC Worst, er, West this season and reignited the debate whether division champs should automatically be granted home playoff games. The New York Giants and Tampa Bay had better records within the NFC at 10-6 and both clubbed Seattle earlier this season.
But it’s the Seahawks who are playoff-bound.
“Man, it was fun. We’re going to the playoffs … did I mention that to you already?” Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch(notes) said. “But, man, they did a good job. At the beginning of the game it was a little tough, their defense was playing pretty good. And then in the second half it kind of just loosened up for us and we kind of just stuck with it.”
Whitehurst finished 22 of 36 for 192 yards. Mare connected from 31, 38 and 34 yards in the second half and Seattle spent the final minute with Carroll screaming into the air and players slapping hands with fans in the end zone.
Now the question becomes who starts for Seattle against the Saints. Matt Hasselbeck(notes) went through warmups Sunday and was active after leaving last week’s loss at Tampa Bay with a hip injury. But Carroll felt Hasselbeck would be too vulnerable and stayed true to his plan with Whitehurst as the starter.
Whitehurst wasn’t spectacular, but didn’t make any critical mistakes the Seahawks couldn’t afford.
“We’re all really excited. We have a playoff game to play. I guess it’s New Orleans coming in here. I’d love to play the game, but I’ll do what they tell me to do,” Whitehurst said.
Seattle’s maligned defense finally found some swagger just in time to rattle Bradford and end the Rams’ feel-good turnaround from a year ago. At this time last year, St. Louis was finishing off a 1-15 season.
Sunday night, they were despondent after seeing their chance at a division title and becoming the third 8-8 division champ in league history slide away.
“I don’t even know if I can tell you right now,” Bradford said of his frustration. “The fact our defense played, in my opinion, pretty great, the fact that we let the team down, that we couldn’t get anything going, that’s what really hurts.”
St. Louis (7-9) was kept out of the end zone for the second time this season and Bradford finished 19 of 36 for 155 yards, with a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter.
A Seattle defense that allowed at least 34 points in four of its last five games suddenly showed a backbone, making St. Louis’ conservative offensive approach seem even slower. The Rams managed just 63 yards in the second half and, with the exception of a fumble recovered at the Seattle 21, didn’t even cross midfield until midway through the fourth.
Steven Jackson also went mostly unused. Jackson had just 11 carries for 45 yards and caught another four passes for 39 yards. When the Rams did cross midfield in the fourth quarter, down just 13-7, Bradford followed with his one big mistake, an interception thrown right at linebacker Will Herring(notes), the first pick of his career.
Seattle then ran off the next 7 minutes as Mare connected from 34 yards with 1:37 left, ending the Rams’ chance at their first division title since 2003.
“I knew that just what we were built on, which was just hard work and relentless effort and it paid off for us,” Seahawks running back Justin Forsett(notes) said. “It was a lot of ups and downs, but we’re here, and like you said, we’re going to see what happens.”