The Seahawks are the NFL's best team at home, and this January, they won't need to leave CenturyLink Field. With their 20-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday in Seattle (along with the Green Bay vs. Detroit game not ending in a tie), the Seahawks clinched not just the NFC West title, but also earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It might have been the ugliest first half of the year, but the defense stepped up to force key turnovers that allowed the Seahawks to pull away in the second half, a theme that has become all too familiar this season.
The Seahawks came up with two interceptions (including a pick-six from Bruce Irvin) and forced three fumbles, including a key late forced fumble by Earl Thomas to ice the game.
Russell Wilson had a relatively quiet day, completing 17-of-25 passes for 239 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Marshawn Lynch had 14 carries for 60 yards, but provided Seattle their only offensive touchdown of the day.
Neither side was able to get much going on their respective opening drives as the game turned into an early field position battle. The Rams got some help from Ricardo Lockette when he was flagged for a late hit on Tavon Austin. After Austin called a fair catch, Lockette came flying straight into Austin way after the play was over. The flag gave the Rams the ball at midfield to start their next drive.
Lockette gets his compulsory bonehead play each game out of the way— Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls) December 28, 2014
The Rams were able to move the ball inside the red zone, but would need to settle for a field goal. Seattle's defense has been scary good at keeping their opponents out of the end zone late in the season. Coming into today, the Seahawks had not allowed a touchdown since the 2nd quarter of Seattle's 17-7 win over the 49ers on December 14.
The Seahawks weren't taking any chances on special teams against the Rams due to their recent history with being faked out on punts by the Rams. Seattle was playing a base defense against St. Louis when they were punting, not taking any chances with Jeff Fisher and the tricks he has up his sleeve.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, their early offensive struggles continued as well, being held scoreless in the 1st quarter.
Seattle has not scored a touchdown in first quarter in last four games, or since Thanksgiving.— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) December 28, 2014
The Seahawks converted a 3rd and 1 run just past midfield when Robert Turbin tucked in behind Will Tukuafu and powered through for the first down. Tukuafu has turned into a valuable full back to clear the path for Seattle's running backs this year, and he came up big once again on this 3rd down play.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the Rams managed to continue to put pressure on Russell Wilson, forcing him to throw an interception. Wilson desperately scrambled around in the pocket and forced a pass intended for Paul Richardson, but Marcus Roberson, a rookie out of Florida, was there to pick Wilson off. The interception was just the second for Wilson since November 9, with the other coming on the last play of the first half against the 49ers earlier this month.
Nothing would come of it though as the Seahawks came up with a huge sack against Shaun Hill. Cliff Avril and Jordan Hill were credited with the sack, but Michael Bennet also exploded off the line to add pressure. The sack created a 3rd and 24 for the Rams, who just threw in the white towel on the drive with a short run.
Schofield once said M. Bennett is so fast at the snap that he just uses him as a reference instead of looking at the center.— Jayson Jenks (@JaysonJenks) December 28, 2014
The Seahawks would give the ball right back to the Rams with another turnover, this time from Marshawn Lynch. After breaking loose for what appeared to be a big gain, Alec Ogletree came in to force Lynch to cough up the ball. It was only Seattle's seventh lost fumble of the year. This team doesn't turn the ball over often, but suddenly they had back-to-back turnovers.
St. Louis would have to settle for another field goal as the Rams went 3-and-out on their possession off the turnover. A false start penalty stalled the drive, but Greg Zuerlein drilled a 52-yard field goal to put the Rams up 6-0 with just over four minutes to go in the half.
The Seahawks nearly turned the ball over for the third straight time at the end of their next drive. On 3rd and 1 at the Seattle 47, Seattle turned to the zone read. Wilson made the right read as the defense crashed in on Turbin, but Wilson wasn't able to get a clean handle on the ball as he pulled it away from Turbin. Wilson would recover, but the Seahawks would punt it away as they were held scoreless in the first half for the first time since Oct. 23, 2011 against the Cleveland Browns.
Despite trailing 6-0 at the half, the Seahawks had 189 yards of offense compared to just 66 yards for the Rams. St. Louis tacked on their second field goal after Lynch's fumble, but didn't gain any yards on the drive after a false start penalty.
Seahawks outgained the Rams 189-66 in the first half and trail 6-0. Rams drives, 9, 35, 4, 4, 0 and 4 yards.— Curtis Crabtree (@Curtis_Crabtree) December 28, 2014
In the first half, Russell Wilson completed 8-of-13 passes for 117 yards with no touchdowns and an interception while being sacked twice. Robert Turbin and Marshawn Lynch split the workload on the ground with seven carries a piece (36 yards for Turbin, 29 yards for Lynch). Both had a 14-yard carry as their longest run of the half.
Wilson was also constantly pressured during the entire first half as the Rams got to Wilson for five hits, five hurries and two fumbles.
For the Rams, Shaun Hill completed 8-of-12 passes for just 61 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. St. Louis also had just 15 rushing yards in the first half.
The Seahawks finally got their first big play of the day on their opening drive of the second half. On 1st and 10 at their own 42, Wilson hit Paul Richardson downfield for an incredible reception as Richardson leaped over Janoris Jenkins for the best catch of his young career.
While the Seahawks would have to settle for a 42-yard field goal, but the kick was big for a couple reasons. Not only did it finally get Seattle on the board and cut the Rams' lead in half, but it also was a bit of a confidence booster for Steven Hauschka, who had a rough night in Arizona last week, missing all three of his field goal attempts.
Seattle's defense once again stepped up in a big way on their next drive, forcing the Rams to go 3-and-out yet again. On the opening play of the drive, Kevin Williams swallowed up Shaun Hill for a sack. Then, Michael Bennett stuffed Tavon Austin for a loss of one yard. Bobby Wagner would shut down a short pass attempt easily, giving the Seahawks the ball right back with another chance to take the lead.
That Richardson catch may have turned this game around.— jose rivera. (@Jose8BS) December 28, 2014
On Seattle's next drive, Wilson hit Richardson for another big gain, this time for 13 yards to move the ball into St. Louis territory. On the next play, Wilson hit Tony Moeaki downfield for 21 yards to put the Seahawks in field goal range. Three plays later, Wilson was once again pressured and was forced to throw it away. Steven Hauschka came on to hit the 45-yard field goal to tie the game at 6-6 with 4:45 to go in the 3rd quarter.
The Rams had a couple key plays on their next drive. On the opening play of the drive, Tre Mason broke through for 13 yards, a much needed gain for Mason who had just four yards on seven carries at that point. Had it not been for Bobby. Later in the drive on 3rd and 4, Shaun Hill hit Jared Cook, who had gone in motion, for a huge first down to keep their drive alive and move the ball into managable field goal range.
Then, the Seahawks came up with their biggest play of the day. After a holding call, the Rams were faced with a 2nd and 19. Shaun Hill attempted to throw the ball away on a blown play, but Jordan Hill made an incredibly athletic catch, scooping the ball up before it hit the ground. Shaun Hill was only trying to spike the ball after the screen play fell apart, but Jordan Hill was right there and aware enough to come up with a big turnover. The interception was the first of Jordan Hill's career.
On the ensuing drive, Kevin Norwood stepped up to make a big play with a catch-and-run for 31 yards down the sideline to move the Seahawks all the way inside the 10. The play set up Marshawn Lynch to bust through the middle for a 9-yard touchdown run to give the Seahawks a 13-6 lead with 12:07 to go.
St. Louis needed to answer as you could feel the Seahawks starting to grab control of the game. Instead, Bruce Irvin stepped up and delivered the biggest play of the day. Irvin picked off Shaun Hill and returned it 49 yards for the touchdown, his second pick-six this season.
Seahawks defense right now pic.twitter.com/w77e8PMdxB— Brian Floyd (@BrianMFloyd) December 28, 2014
Bobby Wagner played a huge role in the interception, stripping the ball free from Lance Kendricks to allow Irvin to come up with the interception. Ever since Wagner returned from injury, this Seahawks defense has been lethal.
Once again, the Rams needed to answer back with a touchdown to keep their upset hopes alive. And once again, Seattle's defense stepped up to deny them of that. On 3rd and 6, Shaun Hill hit Benny Cunningham, who took off running for the pylon. Earl Thomas came in out of nowhere to punch the ball out of Cunningham's hands and through the back of the end zone to give the Seahawks the ball back, leading by two touchdowns with six minutes remaining.
What's also impressive is the fact that Thomas was aware enough to knock the ball away just in case it took a bounce in the Rams' favor to the sideline instead. The turnover stopped any late momentum the Rams might have been gaining, wrapping up the home field advantage for the Seahawks.
When we all looked at Seattle's schedule before the season started, we all noticed the same thing. They had just one divisional game through the first 13 weeks of the season. Then, starting on November 23, the Seahawks would play five of their last six games against NFC West Opponents, with the other game being on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. It seemed like a suicidal ending to a season, one only a Super Bowl contender could survive. The Seahawks didn't just survive the stretch, they completely dominated it.
@FieldGulls Seattle allowed 28 points in their 1st divisional game (L to the Rams). They allowed 28 points TOTAL in the final 5 div. games.— Mookie Alexander (@mookiealexander) December 29, 2014
Seattle will take the next week off during the Wild Card round of the playoffs. They'll then face the lowest winning wild card seed in the Divisional round at CenturyLink Field,while Green Bay will face the highest winning wild card seed.