Much like the season, Seahawks fight off slow start to beat Rams 20-6
The team bounces back from a slow first half with adequate offense and opportunistic defense. Up next: the playoffs.
Seattle Times staff reporter
NFC Divisional playoff
When: Saturday, Jan. 10, 5:15 p.m. at CenturyLink Field
Opponent: Seahawks play lowest-seeded remaining NFC team
Tickets: Go on sale to the public Tuesday at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster. For more information, go to www.seahawks.com/tickets/playoffs/2014.html
What else: If Seahawks win, they would be home for the NFC Championship, Sunday, Jan. 18, 12:05 p.m.
Super Bowl: Sunday, Feb, 1, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., 3:30 p.m.
To get the victory they needed to grab the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, the Seahawks played a game that mirrored their season.
There were some early stumbles, followed by some harsh self-examination, and ultimately, a comeback and celebration.
And when a 20-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams finally was completed, the Seahawks had gotten everything they wanted out of the regular season — their third NFC West title in five years and their second consecutive No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
“That gives us a lot of confidence,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “A lot of confidence. Because not a lot of people want to come here and play.’’
Seattle will have to wait to find out who it will play. The Seahawks have a bye next weekend and will meet either Arizona, Carolina or Detroit at home Jan. 10 at 5:15 p.m.
They’ll do so riding a six-game winning streak that began after a 24-20 defeat at Kansas City on Nov. 16. That loss had many NFL pundits wondering if the Seahawks could even make the playoffs.
At that point, Seattle stood three games behind Arizona in the NFC West. That memory was on the mind of a lot of Seahawks on Sunday after they finished the regular season a full game ahead of the Cardinals.
“Everybody doubted us when we were three games out,’’ Wagner said. “And I want to hear what they’ve got to say now.’’
Team meetings held in the wake of that Kansas City game are credited by coaches and players alike with getting the season back on track.
“There were 12 guys sitting in that room and they all said, ‘We can do this,’ ’’ coach Pete Carroll recalled of the meeting that featured himself and team leaders. “And they did. They just got it done.’’
They did it with a finishing kick in which they won five games against NFC West opponents, along with a road game at Philadelphia, by a combined score of 134-39.
Sunday, though, Seattle trailed 6-0 after two quarters of especially uneven play. The Seahawks had no points at halftime for the first time since 2011, thanks largely to two turnovers and a failed fourth-down conversion.
A few raised voices in the locker room at halftime echoed the same messages delivered after the Kansas City game: Take individual responsibility and trust each other.
“Just do your job, pretty much,’’ said receiver Doug Baldwin of the halftime theme. “Sherm (Richard Sherman) was screaming it, and we reiterated it on offense. Just do your job. You don’t have to do anything special, don’t have to make anything up, and we’ll pull it out.’’
Once again, the message was heeded. The offense scored on its first three possessions of the second half, while the defense forced two turnovers that swung the game Seattle’s way.
An unlikely interception by defensive tackle Jordan Hill of an aborted screen pass led to Seattle’s go-ahead touchdown. Then came an tag-team interception return for a touchdown. Wagner knocked the ball out of the hands of St. Louis’ Lance Kendricks and into those of Bruce Irvin, who then returned it 49 yards. That score helped put the Seahawks ahead 20-6 early in the fourth quarter to clinch it.
“Bruce mode,’’ Wagner said of the play.
A final coup de grace came when safety Earl Thomas knocked the ball out of the hands of St. Louis’ Benny Cunningham as the running back reached for the pylon with 5:58 left. Fumble, touchback.
And then the celebration began in earnest for an NFC West title that some Seahawks said felt better than a year ago given all the peaks and valleys along the way.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t,’’ said Baldwin. “The fact that we got to this point, winning the division in the fashion in which we did it, it is a little bit sweeter.’’
Wagner agreed, then reflected on what changed at midseason.
“I think at the beginning of the year we were trying to be too perfect,’’ he said. “We were the Super Bowl champs, felt like everything had to be perfect. But last year nothing was perfect like that and this year once we got back to having fun and trusting the other guys we are playing with, we got a lot of wins.’’
Quarterback Russell Wilson went as far as to say that if he had to pick which team would win if they played a game — last year’s or this one — he’d side with the 2014 version.
“I think it’s a little bit better, though, because you’re 3-3 and people are doubting and there’s no doubt in the locker room,’’ he said. “We just kept going. I think to come back and show the resilience that we’ve had and the type of players that we have, I’m in this year. I’m in right now. So I would pick this team.’’
Now they’ll try to finish the job the same way the 2013 team did.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.