It is decided: The NFC’s road to the Super Bowl will again run through CenturyLink Field.
Seattle has clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, earning a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for a second straight season. (Here’s the complete playoff picture and information on buying tickets.)
After being shut out in the first half for the first time all season, Seattle came roaring back to beat the Rams 20-6, thanks mostly to the work of what could be the league’s best defense. The Hawks’ two touchdowns — which came within about two minutes of each other — came off interceptions.
Here are the seven biggest moments from the crucial victory:
Rams put up their first and only points
A 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty by Seattle wide receiver Ricardo Lockette in the first quarter helped set up a Rams drive that ended in a 33-yard field goal. Then, late in the second quarter, a fumble by Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch gave St. Louis the ball. Held to 0 yards on the next four plays, the Rams settled for a 52-yard field goal, bringing the score to 6-0.
They were the only points St. Louis would score all day. This is the third year in a row that Seattle’s defense has led the league in fewest points allowed.
Seahawks suffer key turnovers in first half
After the Rams’ first field goal, the Hawks decided to go for it on fourth-and-5 instead of trying a roughly 52-yard field goal, but quarterback Russell Wilson’s pass to tight end Luke Willson fell about a foot short of a first down, giving St. Louis the ball toward the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, on third-and-8, Rams cornerback Marcus Roberson intercepted a too-high Wilson pass intended for wide receiver Paul Richardson. The Rams’ defense did a good job in the first half of keeping Wilson contained and preventing his trademark scrambles.
Between those two plays and the Lynch fumble that set up the second Rams field goal, the Seahawks’ offense struggled throughout the first half.
Seahawks answer with their own field goals
The Seahawks, as they often do, looked like a different team in the second half.
Their first drive — eight plays for 56 yards — included a 14-yard pass to Lynch and a 32-yard rocket down the sideline to rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson. It ended with a 42-yard field goal by kicker Steven Hauschka.
Hill-to-Hill interception turns the tide
Just as St. Louis was moving into range for a possible go-ahead score, two plays tilted momentum permanently Seattle’s way.
First, the Rams got knocked back 10 yards on a holding penalty, making it second-and-19 from the Seattle 34 to end the third quarter. On the next play, it looked like Rams quarterback Shaun Hill was trying to throw the ball away, but Seahawks defensive tackle Jordan Hill scooped it up just before it hit the ground and returned it 8 yards. It was the Seattle Hill’s first career interception.
Hill’s pick set up a six-play Seahawks drive that culminated with a typically excellent rushing touchdown by Lynch. Beast Mode scurried 9 yards up the middle as though he were taking a quick stroll through the park.
The play gave the Seahawks their first lead of the game.
A mere two minutes after the first touchdown of the game, the Seahawks found the end zone again — this time on defense.
Hawks linebacker Bobby Wagner popped the ball out of St. Louis tight end Jared Cook’s arms as soon as it came Cook’s way. In what would be officially ruled an interception, linebacker Bruce Irvin snatched it from the air and cruised 49 yards for a touchdown. That brought the score to 20-6.
Thomas punchout keeps Rams out of end zone
Not content to rest on their laurels with a 14-point lead, the Seahawks denied St. Louis its last-ditch attempt at a touchdown in the game’s final minutes.
Rams running back Benny Cunningham was inches from the goal line, reaching for the front corner of the end zone, when Seahawks safety Earl Thomas knocked the ball out of his hands, leading to a touchback.
Here’s the final drive chart for the game: