Monday, January 3, 2011

Rams vs. Seahawks: Seattle Makes Playoff History With Losing Record

SEATTLE -- It was just the biggest game of the year for St. Louis and Seattle, and in the end, the home field advantage provided by Qwest Field was enough to vault the Seahawks over the top and into the NFL playoffs.
Seattle, guided by Charlie Whitehurst in just his second-ever career start at quarterback, drove 87 yards and scored a touchdown on its first possession, then spent the rest of the night playing keep-away from the Rams en route to a 16-6 win that gives the Seahawks the NFC West title.
Seattle becomes the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record.
Both teams finished the season at 7-9, but the Seahawks got the NFC West title and home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs and will host New Orleans next Saturday.
Some thoughts on the game:
• Former Seattle kicker Josh Brown hit a pair of field goals that got St. Louis to within a point at 7-6 midway through the third quarter, but from that point the Seahawks' defense held the Rams to 3-and-out on three consecutive possessions while current Seattle kicker Olindo Mare hit field goals from 31 and 38 that pushed the lead back to seven points with 10:53 to play.
• Seattle, which has the worst running game in the league, got some clutch bursts from running backs Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett in the second and third quarter to keep some of the defensive pressure off Whitehurst, who was starting with Matt Hasselbeck sidelined by a sore left hip.
• Lynch carried the ball 10 times after an interception by Seahawks cornerback Will Herring gave the ball to the Seahawks at their own 37, all the while whittling time off the clock. The biggest play of the drive, though, was an encroachment penalty against the St. Louis defense on fourth down with 2:45 left that gave Seattle a first down and kept time ticking. That drive took the clock from 8:42 to 1:37 (7:05 in all). A field goal by Mare, his third of the second half, made it a two-score game at 16-6 with St. Louis out of time outs.
• On its first play from scrimmage in the second half, the Seattle offense had just about everything go wrong. The revamped offensive line almost let Whitehurst get sacked, and that was the good news. The bad news was that after Lynch made the catch, the Rams' Ron Bartel forced a fumble and St. Louis fell on the ball at the 21.
• Seattle's defense came up big at that point, giving up a holding penalty but otherwise shutting down Bradford, Jackson and Co. St. Louis wound up with a second Brown field goal that left the Seahawks still in the lead at 7-6.
• After Mare's second field goal pushed the lead up to 13-6 with 10:53 left in the game, the Rams' defense came up huge, forcing three incompletions from Whitehurst on the next Seattle possession. But on the next possession, Herring stepped in front of a pass bound for Rams receiver Brandon Gibson and came up with his first career interception.
• Quarterback Sam Bradford of the Rams, who came into the game with the NFL rookie record for most completions, added the record for the most pass attempts during the first half, as well.
• St. Louis got just one first down in the first quarter, but the Rams took over for the final play of the quarter and that launched a 13-play drive engineered by Bradford that covered 83 yards and resulted in a 32-yard field goal by Josh Brown that cut the deficit to 7-3. Along the way the Rams clicked for five first downs, four of them on Bradford completions and one on a 13-yard burst by running back Steven Jackson. Jackson also caught one of the first down passes.

• Seattle left tackle Russell Okung, troubled by ankle injuries all year, limped off the field with just over three minutes to play in the first half. Almost predictably, the Seahawks' shuffled line produced an offensive holding call on the next play. His return was listed as questionable, but he was back in the third quarter, although he wasn't moving around particularly well.

• The first half ended with neither team having done much of anything. The Rams had just 94 net yards, and as grim as that number was, the Seahawks had just 49. Bradford connected on 7-of-9 passes, but for only 64 yards. Whitehurst had a great first drive, also hit on 7-of-9, and wound up with 109 yards gained.

• Whitehurst, getting just his second career start, was anything but conservative on the first drive. He connected on passes on the first three Seattle plays and went 5-for-5 on the drive, including a 61-yard bomb to Ruvell Martin, the backup's longest reception of the year. Ultimately the TD was a fade pass to Mike Williams from the five for a 7-0 lead.

• Before the game, Seattle sent Hasselbeck out in his role as captain for the coin flip. But when the game started, Hasselbeck's hip injury had him as a spectator with Whitehurst starting. Coach Pete Carroll said Hasselbeck badly wanted to play and ''if we need him to, he will.''

• The Cardinals' first first down came on a 20-yard pass to Jackson. But when Bradford went for a second first down later on St. Louis' second drive, Seattle's Jordan Babineaux, coming on a safety blitz, knocked the pass down at the line of scrimmage on third-and 7.

• Seattle came up with another big play at the start of the next St. Louis drive. The Rams went for an end-around with receiver Laurent Robinson, but Herring sniffed out the play, caught Robinson and wound up throwing him for a nine-yard loss.

• The Rams were determined to try and catch the Seahawks off guard if at all possible. They twice ran with fullback Mike Karney, which wouldn't be remarkable at all except for the fact that he'd only carried the ball three times all year.

• Such has been the state of the Seattle offensive line and its injuries; Game 16 saw the 10th different offensive line formations for the Seahawks. They've had three different starting left guards and three different starting right guards this season.

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