Seahawks enter postseason as NFC’s No. 1 seed

Posted Dec 29, 2013

With so much on the line in Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Seahawks put together a dominating performance in handing the Rams a 27-9 loss to clinch the NFC West title, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

What the Seahawks finished at CenturyLink Field on Sunday afternoon actually began in Atlanta in January.

That’s when the Seahawks rallied to take a late lead over the top-seeded Falcons in a divisional-round game in last season’s playoffs, only to lose on a last-second field goal. It was the memory of that loss that has been the Seahawks’ motivation through one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history.

And after Sunday’s 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams in their regular-season finale that clinched the NFC West championship, a first-round bye in the opening round of the playoffs next weekend and home-field advantage throughout the postseason for the 13-3 Seahawks, All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas and leading receiver Golden Tate evoked the empty feeling left by last season’s exit from the playoffs as a reason for everything the Seahawks have accomplished this season.

“It feels good because, one, I feel like I contributed a lot in this game,” said Tate, who had career-highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (129) as well as his fifth touchdown catch of the season. “And two, the work that we’ve been putting in since really we lost in Atlanta. It’s been incredible.”

Added Thomas, after a tempo-setting performance by the league’s No. 1-ranked defense: “I think that (loss) was a great, great building point for us. And a lot of guys still had that chip on their shoulder today. They remember how they felt, and you don’t ever want to feel like that again. I never want to feel like that again. So you’re going to do everything in your power to prepare and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

What happens now is the Seahawks will host a game on Jan. 11 at 1:35 p.m. PT against the lowest-seeded team to emerge from next weekend’s wild-card round – when the wild-card San Francisco 49ers (12-4) will play the NFC North champion Packers (8-7-1) in Green Bay and the wild-card New Orleans Saints (11-5) will play at the NFC East champion, the winner of Sunday night’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.

It wasn’t just that the Seahawks won on Sunday before an amped up crowd of 68,264 fans, it was how they won. Their dominance a week after playing their worst game of the season in a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week was a flare of notification to the NFC’s other seven playoff teams: Come to CenturyLink Field, and this is what you can expect.

“Today’s effort was really Seahawks football,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It was really like we like it. Great defense today, and we just kept sticking the running game at them until we got what we needed done.”

It seemed only fitting that the Seahawks’ defense, which finished the season ranked No. 1 in so many categories, got score No. 1 as linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted a Kellen Clemens pass and return it 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Before it was over, Marshawn Lynch had run 2 yards for another score, Tate had teamed with QB Russell Wilson for a 47-yard scoring pass and Steven Hauschka had kicked two more field goals.

“It was a great game, just a complete team effort. Everybody really clicked,” said Wilson, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 172 yards and the TD for a 102.1 passer rating. “The defense did a tremendous job. Malcolm Smith’s interception for a touchdown was big to get the day started and then we just kept going.

“Marshawn Lynch was incredible today, once again. … It was great team effort. And you think about the fans today, they were electric.”

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The best way to describe just what happened Sunday is to compare this effort to the one the Seahawks had in St. Louis in Week 8, when they didn’t secure a 14-9 victory until Clemens’ final pass of the game was tipped incomplete in the end zone.

In that game, Lynch was limited to eight carries and 23 yards. Sunday, the Seahawks’ Beast Mode back had 40 yards on eight carries – in the second quarter. He finished with 97 yards and his 12th rushing TD. Zac Stacy, the Rams’ rookie running back, went for 134 yards in St. Louis. Sunday, he went nowhere, gaining 15 yards on 15 carries as the Seahawks held the Rams to 13 yards on 18 carries – a per-carry average of 0.7 yards; and 158 total yards.

In the Week 8 game, the Seahawks ran a season-low 40 offensive plays for 135 yards. Sunday, it was 63 plays, which they turned into 269 yards. In St. Louis, the Rams controlled the ball for 38 minutes. Sunday, the Seahawks controlled it for almost 34 minutes.

And so on and so on.

Tate already has been part of a division champion team. That was in 2010, his rookie season, when the Seahawks became the first team to win their division with a 7-9 record. This is so much different.

“This is something I haven’t felt before,” Tate said. “My first year we won it, but this just feels good. This feels good. We worked so hard for it.”

And their work has only begun, as the postseason is a new season.

“This doesn’t really feel like anything,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It feels like what’s supposed to happen.”

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