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Originally published December 28, 2014 at 6:38 PM | Page modified December 28, 2014 at 8:11 PM

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Despite a 6-10 record and a 20-6 defeat, Rams certain the gap they face isn’t all that large

St. Louis confident its younger players are developing, and progress is being made.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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The difference between victory and defeat in the NFL is often minuscule.

The margin separating the team with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and the one that finishes 6-10 can come down to a botched screen pass that find a defensive lineman’s arms instead of the ground, or a goal-line strip inches from pay dirt.

“There’s not a big gap between any team in the NFL,” Rams quarterback Shaun Hill said. “None of them, from whoever’s going to get the first pick in the draft to whoever’s going to win the Super Bowl. It’s not a big gap between those two teams.

“That’s just life in the NFL. It’s an all-out brawl every single weekend.”

The showdown Sunday between the Rams and Seahawks was a fairer fight than the margin of Seattle’s 20-6 victory would indicate. And the gap between the first and fifth seeds in the NFC was never thinner than in the opening moments of the fourth quarter Sunday.

The Cardinals-49ers matchup was a three-point game down in San Francisco — an Arizona victory coupled with a Seattle defeat would knock the Seahawks down four places among playoff seeds.

And the surprisingly feisty Rams were on the move — their first sustained drive of the game — inside Seattle territory with the score knotted at 6-6. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Hill’s attempted throwaway of a well-defended screen pass hung in the air just long enough for defensive lineman Jordan Hill to get his meaty arms around it before the ball hit the turf.

The Seahawks took their first lead of the game on the ensuing drive, and the next St. Louis possession ended with a Hill pass that deflected off tight end Lance Hendricks and into Bruce Irvin’s hands for a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Next time down, the Rams drove 74½ yards on 11 plays before Earl Thomas punched the ball out of Benny Cunningham’s hands as he reached for the goal line.

It has been that kind of year for the Rams.

“I think we’re better than a 6-10 team,” St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said. “I really do. I think we’re moving in the right direction.

“Nobody likes a 6-10 season, but I think we’re building. … We’re developing young players who can make plays.”

The young defense is especially intriguing, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a candidate for rookie defensive player of the year. The Rams chased Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson all day, racking up three sacks and four tackles for a loss while limiting Wilson to 7 rushing yards on six carries.

“Coming into the season, I felt more confident than ever,” Cunningham said. “I feel like the younger guys, the rookie class I came in with, had a better understanding of what it took to play in this league.

“We just had some unfortunate games where we either didn’t hold on or the offense was clicking and the defense wasn’t or vice versa.”

The offense was the problem Sunday, managing just 66 yards in the first half. St. Louis took a 6-0 lead at the half, but that was only because a pair of Seattle turnovers handed the Rams prime field position.

“I don’t think we ever felt like the game was out of hand to where we needed a turning point,” Seattle’s Richard Sherman said. “We played hard — we gave up a total of 60 yards at halftime and we didn’t really need a turning point.”

The breaks evened out in the second half. That’s the rub for St. Louis: For all the talk of narrow margins and unlucky bounces, by the final week, there’s no denying the bottom line. But the NFC West isn’t going to be getting any easier.

“If you’re watching the game, we’re not that far off,” Rams defensive lineman Chris Long said. “But it’s not good enough to be not that far off.”

Matt Pentz: mpentz@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mattpentz



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