Solving for the virus, the Rams and the NFC West, Seahawks party like it’s 2016, the last time they won the division. With a dominant defense. You read that right.
An abundance of game developments could have inspired coach Pete Carroll to begin his post-game remarks with, “This was a great Seahawks day,” including a defensive achievement so breathtaking it might rate recognition as the biggest sports turnaround since Bruce Jenner.
But beating the nemesis Rams 20-9 (box) Sunday afternoon at the Loo to win the NFC West title, assuring them of a top-three seed and a home game in the NFC playoffs, was more a byproduct than a climax in and of itself. More than a culmination of talent and strategy, the achievement was strict adherence to a fresh layer of the Prime Directive, of which Carroll is extremely proud.
“Rule Number One: Always protect the team,” he said of avoiding the disruptions of COVID-19. “We’ve needed it all the way, every step of the way. Our guys have been so committed to it. They had to have been. We just pulled off something getting through this football season.”
The coronavirus pandemic is, of course, everyone’s problem. But avoiding its consequences in a professional contact sport when public health rules dictate avoiding contact for months with nearly everyone, is a feat.
In chaos, disruption is avoided by clarity of purpose.
“This is not something we just rolled through,” he said of the being the only NFL team not to have positive test for COVID-19. “It has been constant for months before we ever started at the end of February. That’s because everybody cared so much. It was so important to them to be part of this.
“That’s about conscience, because it’s all the thousands of decisions that people have to make to keep going: “No, I have to go this way, so that I can protect my team.'”
Not losing players to isolation or quarantine was vital, because they are operating on thinner margins than some of the other teams they could meet in NFC playoffs, such as Green Bay, which beat Tennessee 40-14 Sunday night, or Tampa Bay, which beat Detroit 47-7 Saturday, or New Orleans, which beat Minnesota 52-33 Friday.
Not saying the Seahawks couldn’t beat one or all. But this is the first time in eight meetings with the Rams under coach Sean McVay that the Seahawks had some control, so we’re in the first hours of looking at the Seahawks from a fresh perspective.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 28, 2020
Until Sunday, Seattle’s two wins in the series had been by one and six points, and the Rams always seemed to have the answers. This time, the Seahawks held a lead, albeit tenuous, for the final 25 minutes, made no turnovers and drove 80 yards in nine plays for the game-clinching touchdown inside the final three minutes.
More significantly, they held the Rams without a touchdown. In the past three games, they have given up only two, both to a Washington team already down 17 points in the fourth quarter.
The humbling of the Rams comes with a caveat. Apparently, QB Jared Goff played the fourth quarter with a thumb broken upon the helmet of Seahawks DE Benson Mayowa during a pass completion. He still managed six completions in 14 attempts, but the 74 passing yards was testament to how little he went deep while behind.
Nevertheless, the Seahawks have held each of their past five opponents under 20 points, the first time for such a run since 2014, the last time they reached the Super Bowl.
Thinking back to September and October, when the Seahawks were surrendering real estate faster than the 19th-century Oklahoma land rush, it stretches the imagination to see mostly the same crew running a shutdown operation to win a division title.
“I think it’s been awesome,” FS Quandre Diggs said. “I think this is the plan that we had at the beginning of the year when we started those Zoom meetings, and we started training camp. This is what we dreamed about — holding teams to nine points, really good offenses, division opponents on a championship day.
“We did it. This is what we dreamed about and we put it into motion. We just have to keep this thing going.”
Diggs capped a big personal week for him. After he was named to his first Pro Bowl, he had his team-high fifth interception to stop a deep Rams drive when Goff, rolling out to the far sideline, inexplicably threw to no one but him. Said Goff of the game’s only turnover: “One of the worst plays in my career.”
Diggs was grateful.
“Being able to go out there and play at a championship level, in a championship game, win a division for the first time in my career, it’s dope,” he said. “I’m eager to see that banner up in the VMAC so I can look at it every day while we’re in meetings. We got the hats and t-shirts to cap off a great week.”
— Seattle Sports Diaries (@SEASportDiaries) December 27, 2020
The most dramatic testimony to the defensive dominance was at the end of the Rams’ first possession of the second half — trailing 13-6 with a first-and-goal from the Seattle 2-yard line, the Rams ran the ball four times and were stoned four times.
“There was never a more heroic opportunity than down there on the goal-line,” Carroll said. “You’ve seen the heart of our players in earlier times this season come through. They did it again.
“The goal line stand was a famous one, one I’ll never forget, just because it was so hard. The ball was on the one-inch line, or whatever, and they did not let it happen.”
Another thing that was not forgotten Sunday was what happened about a year ago when the division title was up for grabs. The San Francisco 49ers took it with a 26-21 triumph when TE Jacob Hollister’s run after a reception with the potential game-winning touchdown was stopped about an inch from the goal line.
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) December 28, 2020
Again, Hollister found himself in the division-winning crucible. This time, QB Russell Wilson finished his 5-for-5 passing in the final drive with a perfect lob over the defense to Hollister in the same end zone where he was denied.
“That’s a little bit of poetry right there,” Carroll said. “We were right in this exact same situation, where if we cross there, we win. What I like about the analogy, is that we’ve been here before. We’ve been this close. This time we really pushed over the top and left no doubt. (Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) knew exactly what he wanted and Russ loved the thought, and they worked it out perfectly.
“At the right moment, we did right.”
Just as Wilson and WR David Moore did right on the opening drive of the second half, when they connected on a 45-yard beauty, the game’s longest play, to set up Seattle’s first touchdown.
Big plays were few, but good plays were big enough for Seattle’s first division crown since 2016, with a game left Sunday with San Francisco (in Arizona, due to the virus). To top this divisional gang was big for Carroll.
“We all knew that this division is as tough as it gets,” he said. “It does add to the accomplishment. We appreciate that.”
Almost as much as they appreciate doing right by staying the hell away from the virus.