By Danny O'Neil
There are no doubts about the closing ability of Seattle's defense.
Not with the finishing touch the Seahawks showed in a 27-9 victory over St. Louis on Sunday in a game that not only clinched the NFC West title and a first-round bye in the playoffs, but one that made a pretty unmistakable statement.
The Seahawks are built around the bedrock of this defense, which scored as many touchdowns as it allowed in the game, and held the Rams to just 13 yards rushing, matching the franchise record for fewest in a game.
Seattle held each of its last five opponents to fewer than 20 points, and Seattle's defense was the reason there was no doubt about Sunday's outcome even as the offense stumbled through another slow start. Malcolm Smith's 37-yard interception return was Seattle's only touchdown of the first half, but the Rams didn't find the end zone until the fourth quarter.
The significance: The Seahawks matched the franchise record for victories in a single season with 13, clinched the NFC West title for the Seahawks and earned them the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
Play of the game: Golden Tate was isolated against cornerback Janoris Jenkins on the outside again. Tate outjumped Jenkins for the ball again. And Tate scored a touchdown on Seattle's longest play of the game once again. Back in Week 9, Tate's 80-yard touchdown catch was the difference in Seattle's 14-9 victory at St. Louis, and his 47-yard touchdown catch was the exclamation on Seattle's victory.
Turning point: Smith intercepted a pass for the second consecutive week. This time, he returned it to the end zone, scoring Seattle's first touchdown on a 37-yard return in the first quarter. Those 37 yards were more than Seattle's offense managed on its three first-quarter possessions.
Player of the game: Tate caught eight passes for 129 yards, both career highs.
The good: Seattle scored its second defensive touchdown of the season in the first quarter, Smith returning an interception 37 yards for a touchdown. Seattle held its opponent scoreless in the first quarter for the third successive game. The Seahawks allowed only one first-quarter touchdown this season and gave up a total of 22 points in the opening period. That sets a new franchise record as the previous low was 25 points allowed in the first quarter in 1991. Seattle led 13-0 after Steven Hauschka's 35-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in the first half. It was the eighth time this season that Seattle scored in the final 2 minutes of the second quarter. The Rams rushed for 200 yards the last time they played Seattle. St. Louis had minus-2 yards rushing at halftime. Jon Ryan aired out a first-quarter punt, sending it 75 yards in the air from the point where he kicked it – Seattle's 15-yard line – to where Rams returner Justin Veltung caught it at St. Louis' 10.
The bad: Seattle allowed 25 total yards worth of punt returns in the first 15 games combined. The Seahawks gave up 32 yards on a third-quarter return to receiver Austin Pettis, eliminating Seattle's chance to set a new record for fewest return yards allowed in a 16-game season. Seattle's first three possessions produced three punts, one first down and no points. Doug Baldwin did not have a reception in the first half. Rookie tight end Luke Wilson dropped a pass on what would have put Seattle in scoring position.
|• Recap | Stats | Photos | Postgame interviews||• O'Neil: What We Learned||• O'Neil: Seahawks' offense a question mark||• O'Neil: Potential divisional-round scenarios||• 'The Pete Carroll Show': Lesson learned||• Henderson: Golden Tate does it again|
Seattle: Willson suffered an injury to his left leg on a fourth-quarter catch on third-down. He was taken off the field on a cart with his left leg in an air cast. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane left the game in the fourth quarter because of a hip injury. Linebacker Bobby Wagner left the field briefly in the first quarter, but returned after two plays. Cornerback Richard Sherman stayed down, reaching for his left leg after nearly intercepting a third-quarter pass in the end zone.
St. Louis: Veltung was evaluated for a head injury in the first quarter. Left tackle Rodger Saffold was evaluated for a head injury in the fourth quarter.
Seattle: WR Percy Harvin, LB K.J. Wright, RB Christine Michael, G Michael Bowie, OL Caylinn Hauptmann, DE Benson Mayowa, DT Jordan Hill.