Seahawks outslug Rams, claim NFC's top seed

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

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 were finally 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, as the newly-crowned NFC West champions secured homefield 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 said.
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.
Defensive end Cliff Avril said the Seahawks might be better off for having to wait to celebrate a division title and all that came with it.
"Going into the playoffs, it gives us an edge," he said. "As a young team, we could have shut it down four weeks ago, and it's hard to turn that back on. So it will probably work out for the best. Everything happens for a reason."
NOTES: Rams WR Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in the April draft, missed his third straight game with an ankle injury. He finished his rookie season with 40 receptions for 418 yards and six touchdowns - including a 65-yard run and a 98-yard punt return. ... A thigh injury kept Rams RB Daryl Richardson out of action for the second consecutive week. ... Seahawks CB Walter Thurmond returned from a four-game suspension Sunday but did not start. Byron Maxwell was back in a starting role for the fifth consecutive game. ... Seattle DT Brandon Mebane (hip) sat out the entire fourth quarter. ... Seahawks TE Luke Willson was taken off the field on a cart after suffering a left ankle injury early in the fourth quarter, but he said after the game the injury wasn't serious. ... Rams OT Rodger Saffold was helped off the field with 11:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. He was being evaluated for a possible head injury.

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