By Chris Cluff
As it turned out, the Seahawks didn’t need to beat the Rams in the season finale for the purposes of playoff seeding. That was all settled once the San Francisco 49ers took care of Arizona a bit earlier.
But the Hawks did need to beat the Rams for their own peace of mind. They needed to show Jeff Fisher’s tough-nosed bunch of fighters that the Hawks will not back down. They needed to finish their home slate 8-0 for the third time in franchise history. They needed to finish the season on a five-game winning streak.
And, after three weeks of blowout wins, they needed a close game to test them as they head to Washington for their second playoff appearance in three years under Pete Carroll.
They got all of that in a come-from-behind 20-13 win that gave them the third-best record (11-5) in team history.
The Hawks agreed they needed a tough-fought game like this as the postseason looms.
“It definitely gave us an example of what to expect in the playoffs,” defensive end Red Bryant told reporters. “I would have rather had a game like this in the regular season than to get in the playoffs and not be able to respond like we were able to respond today.”
Russell Wilson, who engineered the go-ahead 90-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, said, “To go into the playoffs with a game like that when it comes down to the fourth quarter, the last drive of the game and finish like that, that’s great. I wouldn’t call it a wakeup call — I think we were ready to play — but I think it was great for us going into the playoffs.”
At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, the Wilson and the Hawks will face Robert Griffin III and a Washington team that beat Dallas in a loser-out game for the NFC East title Sunday night.
The Seahawks had their toughest offensive day in weeks. Wilson was sacked six times — some due to poor blocking, others to good coverage. Chris Long sacked him three times and hit him three other times.
Center Max Unger told reporters, “They bring a lot of pressure and they move their defense a lot. They play a lot of different defenses, a lot of different coverages, and it’s just us recognizing it, whether or not we need to make an adjustment on the line of scrimmage, checking a play or even if we’re going to be hot we just all have to know what we’re doing.”
The 20 points were the fewest since they lost to the 49ers, 13-6, in Week 7.
But Wilson still managed to persevere and pulled out his fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season. He completed 15 of 19 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown; the 78.9 completion percentage and 136.3 passer rating were his best of the season. He also ran for 58 yards and the winning touchdown on 10 carries.
He also tied Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record with 26 touchdown passes.
“To tie that record is really something special,” said Wilson, who also set the Seahawks season record for passer rating (100.0).
The Hawks had trouble running until Wilson opened it up. Marshawn Lynch still managed 100 yards on 17 rushes, his 10th game of 100 or more this season.
The game might not have been as close if not for a couple of huge penalties on tight end Anthony McCoy. He committed pass interference on Wilson’s 28-yard TD pass to Zach Miller in the first quarter and then nullified a huge 49-yard pass to Doug Baldwin in the second half when he held Long.
The defense finally came through in a close game. After blowing the last three close games — at Chicago (the Hawks won thanks only to Wilson and the offense), at Miami and at Detroit — the defense nearly did it again, but Richard Sherman picked off Sam Bradford’s pass at the goal line with 33 seconds left.
The Seahawks got very little pressure on Bradford all game (no sacks), but they somehow held him to 25 completions in 42 attempts and just one touchdown pass while limiting the Rams to 79 rushing yards on 19 carries and just 2 of 11 third-down conversions. They got just one turnover, but it came at the most important time.
Sherman’s pick was his eighth of the season and capped a big week after he was absolved of a positive drug test. With Brandon Browner finishing his suspension, the Hawks relied on Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell and Marcus Trufant — and that trio had an up-and-down day. Lane especially struggled.
The Rams beat the Hawks on special teams in the first meeting this season but didn’t do it this time in what was an evenly played game.
Just as in the first game, the Hawks did botch an onside kick. Steve Hauschka didn’t get the ball 10 yards before Kam Chancellor caught it. That set up the Rams at their 45, and they ended up getting a short field goal out of it.
The Hawks were almost completely outcoached in the first half by Fisher and his staff. They didn’t handle the Rams’ pressure or coverages well in the first half, but Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable put the ball in the hands of Wilson in the second half, and it worked.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley once again blitzed sparingly, and the Hawks ended up with no sacks.
The Hawks made some good calls on special teams. They eschewed two 50-plus field goals because they know Steven Hauschka cannot make them consistently. They made a good call on the onside kick after Wilson’s touchdown pass to Michael Robinson, but Hauschka messed it up by kicking the ball short.
Carroll made one dubious challenge on a first-down call that ended up standing.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.