Despite the mess at quarterback, the Rams knew they were ready to beat the Seahawks because they are used to imposing their will. Even without Aaron Donald.
The post-mortems that follow the conclusions of pro football seasons necessarily involve discussions about coaching changes, contract extensions, pending free agency and draft needs. Before we get to those discussions — and suddenly there seems more time for personnel stuff now in Seattle than was anticipated — let’s get to one item that lingers from the Seahawks’ awkward collapse Saturday.
Did the Seahawks lose the battle of wills with the Rams?
Based on a measurement that speaks to a favorite Pete Carroll term, grit, the Rams, to take pressure off a highly vulnerable quarterback situation, ran 43 times for 164 yards. So the answer is unequivocally yes. Because the Seahawks defense knew it was coming, and could do little.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks offense had its most meager output of the season, 278 yards, and seemed regularly overwhelmed by the Rams’ top-rated defense that had Russell Wilson in near-perpetual agitation.
The subject was brought up post-game Saturday by Rams LT Andrew Whitworth. At 39 the Rams’ oldest player, Whitworth missed the Dec. 27 meeting won by the Seahawks, 20-9, after knee surgery eight weeks earlier. Also missing that game due to injury was the Rams’ youngest player, Cam Akers, 21, the rookie running back who ran for 131 yards in 28 carries.
The tandem returned big Saturday, and were relentless.
“You’ll see in playoff football, all of a sudden one team will show up and it’s like, ‘Man, they seem like a force out there,'” Whitworth said. “You’re going to need plays where you see guys saying, ‘Hey, it doesn’t have to be perfectly blocked, I don’t have to be out in the clear, but I can go fight for tough yards and turn a two- or three- or four-yard game into something that’s eight, 10, 11, 12.’
“It’s going to be about imposing your will on each other. Those will make the difference in a football game. The more you do that to a team, the more it demoralizes them.”
It’s hardly a novel concept. Followers of the Seahawks were spoiled by its deployment during in the Legion of Boom era. The toughness of the NFL’s No. 1 defense was mirrored on offense by RB Marshawn Lynch, who wore out tacklers by turning two-yard losses into three-yard gains.
So, Carlos Dunlap, did it seem to you the Rams imposed their will?
“They ran the ball really good versus one of the best run defenses in the NFL,’’ said Dunlap, who paused the melancholy ritual of locker clean-out long enough to talk to reporters via Zoom. “So there’s no denying that they imposed their will.
“But I feel like there’s a lot of things we could have done better, and we under-performed and under-delivered.”
Under-delivery is always the case after any defeat. But losing a battle of wills is uncommon for the Seahawks, especially in a home game with loser-out stakes for a team that fancied itself Super Bowl-caliber.
After the game, SS Jamal Adams understood that he forced his way off the Jets and onto a team that doesn’t regard a playoff berth with just-happy-to-be-here smiles.
“To me, it’s a failure,” he said. “I mean, that’s our goal. It’s not about individual goals. It’s not about anything else. It’s about getting to the Super Bowl and winning it.
“We did win a division. But at the end of the day, we knew what our mission was, and we fell short. So to me, that is a failed season.”
Sunday, LB K.J. Wright, now a free agent who wants another year with Seattle, understood that personnel moves were made over the past 12 months to get back to the Roman numerals.
“Of all the years since we (last were in), I thought this was the year we would make it,” he said. “It should have been us this year.”
Yet the defense, despite one of the best games in the career of LB Bobby Wagner (16 tackles, sack, TFL, QB hit) couldn’t deter Akers (131 yards on 28 carries) sufficiently to knock loose coach Sean McVay from his conservative game plan: Protect at all costs his surgically repaired QB, Jared Goff, who wasn’t supposed to play.
“We were able to identify the things that you feel good about, play-wise, to activate because for him to be able to even throw the football is pretty impressive,” said McVay, now 6-3 against Carroll. “I’ve been a tick more conservative than you normally would be in years past. I thought we matched their intensity. (We) were ready to go. We have so much respect (for the Seahawks), but we did come up here expecting to get this thing done.”
McVay knew he had the psychological edge. And to prove it, they even inadvertently spotted the Seahawks an injured All-Pro DT Aaron Donald, and still won.
Donald left the game with a bruised sternum after helping force an incompletion on the Seahawks’ second possession of the second half. That initiated a sequence of plays that might have been the worst of the Carroll/Wilson era.
Over the next three possessions absent the big meanie, Wilson was two for seven for 16 yards, and the team had a cumulative net of three yards of offense because of five penalties (four offensive) for 35 yards.
It was as if Wilson and teammates were hearing Donald’s ghost: Boo!
“We needed to get going there,” Wilson said. “The game kind of felt stale for us in a way — we kind of flat-lined. We needed to get going, and make that happen. And the next thing you know, we didn’t.”
Next thing you know, a punt return fumble by D.J. Reed set up the Rams for a short-field touchdown and a 30-13 lead.
Given the spectacular offense that fueled the season’s 5-0 start, it is mind-bending to know that the Donald-free sequence had the identical lineup, save for tight end and left guard. Talk about a loss of will . . .
Carroll knew precisely the magnitude of the loss.
“These years are hard to come by,” he said. “It’s hard to get to 12 wins, and it’s hard to get yourself situated with a playoff game at home. We’ve won a lot of playoff games (six) at home. It’s tough to give one away.
“As we run through the playoffs and watch everybody else still be playing, it makes you sick to your stomach. Seriously. It feels almost like life ends, in a sense, for this season. It’s very difficult to deal with.”
It was probably the second-worst loss of Carroll’s tenure, next to the Game That Cannot Be Unseen.
But that was one play. Bending to the will of the Rams is a lifestyle.