The champs are tough, impressive and imperfect.
But, oh, what a defense.
And, oh, no one wants to come to Seattle in the playoffs.
That pretty much sums up what was written about the Seahawks after they struggled in the first half but eventually took care of business by beating the St. Louis Rams 20-6 Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
The defense took over in the second half for a sputtering offense to pull away from the Rams and clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the second consecutive year. That means Seattle earned a first-round bye and home-field advantage before the Super Bowl.
Everyone remembers how that worked out last year. Seattle won twice at home, edging the San Francisco 49ers (remember them?) on a Richard Sherman tipped pass in the NFC Championship game. Then they dominated the Denver Broncos 43-8 to win the Super Bowl.
Can the Seahawks do it again? Stay tuned and read on.
First here’s what The Seattle Times writers said about the Seahawks and the playoffs. Look for more throughout the day, including a live chat with Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright and reporter Bob Condotta at 11:30 a.m. PST.
Here’s a roundup of what the media are saying about the game and the Seahawks’ playoff chances, along with comments about some other Super Bowl contenders.
Seventeen weeks of the NFL season have come and gone, and we’re left with this: The best team at the end of this season is the same as the best team at the end of last season.
The Seattle Seahawks are poised to become the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots a decade ago. The Seahawks are getting the same great play out of their defense they were a year ago and the same great play from quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, and with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they’re going to be a very, very tough team to beat.
This season hasn’t always gone according to plan in Seattle. Through six games they were 3-3, and at times early in the year their defense looked like it had taken a step backward. It was reasonable to question during the middle of the season if Seattle was as good as it was a year ago. It was even reasonable to question whether Seattle would make the playoffs at all.
But that’s all over now. With Sunday’s 20-6 win over the Rams, the Seahawks finished the season on a six-game winning streak, with all six wins by double digits. The Seahawks aren’t just beating teams, they’re beating teams up. They’re winning the way great teams win.
And I think they’ve got three more wins left in them. On February 1, the Seahawks will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Again.
Russell Wilson is running like no other quarterback. Wilson finished this season with 849 rushing yards, the fifth best total for a quarterback in NFL history, and by far the best total of any quarterback in the NFL this season. Wilson is running better than any other quarterback in the league right now. He looks ready to run Seattle into the Super Bowl.
Thirty minutes after the Seahawks‘ latest victory, a 20-6 triumph over St. Louis, defensive end Cliff Avril stood at his locker. He didn’t celebrate. He didn’t boast. He didn’t want to place this defense in any historical context, even if the numbers it has produced over the past two seasons do that for him.
That said, it was also impossible to ignore the last six weeks, the six Seahawks’ victories, the two touchdowns allowed by Avril’s defense in those games, how only one opponent (Philadelphia) even managed “to score in double digits. Sunday’s contest was just the latest example, one game in a larger pattern, an NFC West-clinching win over St. Louis secured by a defense as dominant as any in recent memory.
Avril didn’t want to touch that subject. He didn’t want to compare this Seahawks defense with the Ravens of 2000 or the Bears of 1985 or any number of defenses considered among the greatest of all-time. But he can appreciate how hard it is for any unit to be not only that stingy but that stingy most weeks for the majority of two seasons. That’s how a defense enters the all-time discussion, one bruising, lopsided victory at a time.
NFL football is about peaking in the playoffs; not peaking for a season, or seasons. Players leave for more money elsewhere. They get injured. Their play drops off. The Seahawks experienced all that, plugged in new teammates, paid their cornerstones big money, faced a harder schedule, dealt with an early bye and finished this season the same way they finished last season — led by a defense that separates them from other NFC contenders and makes them the favorites to return to the Super Bowl and become the first champion in 10 years to successfully defend their title.
As it turns out, the Seahawks and Packers are who we thought they were: the two most Super Bowl-worthy teams in the NFC. Just like so many presumed ahead of their highly anticipated Sept. 4 meeting in the first game of the NFL’s 2014 regular season, almost four months ago.
When all was said and done in the still up-for-grabs NFC in Week 17, it was Seattle and Green Bay who stood tallest, wrapping up the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the conference with tense and gritty victories on Sunday, wins that vindicated their elite status.
Not that any of it came easily. In a twist symbolic of their seasons, both clubs were tested in Week 17 and had to scratch and claw their way to home-field wins. The Seahawks (12-4) trailed St. Louis 6-0 at halftime and looked in danger of falling to the Rams for the second time this season, a loss that could have cost the defending Super Bowl champs plenty if Arizona had found a way to win at San Francisco and claim the NFC West crown.
But Seattle stiffened in the second half and scored the game’s final 20 points, beating St. Louis 20-6 to earn its sixth consecutive win and second straight NFC West crown. The streaking champs have won nine out of 10 games since sinking to 3-3 at midseason, allowing just 39 points over the season’s final six games, and once again look hell-bent on taking the big confetti shower in February.
It was roughly the same story at Lambeau Field, where the Packers were a pristine 7-0 this season entering Sunday. Green Bay (12-4) scuffled for quite a while with the combative Lions, who beat the Packers in Week 3 and pulled into a 14-14 tie with the home team in the third quarter. But like Seattle, Green Bay regrouped and reasserted itself, outscoring Detroit 16-6 the rest of the way in a 30-20 victory that clinched another NFC North title and assured the Packers of being off for the first week of the playoffs and at home during the divisional round.
That development, of course, is seen as crucial for Green Bay’s Super Bowl dreams, given the tender state of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ strained left calf, which he re-aggravated in the second quarter on Sunday. After backup quarterback Matt Flynn took over for the first drive of the second half and the Packers faithful held their breath, Rodgers returned from the locker room to restore order to Green Bay’s universe.
It was the second year in a row the Packers claimed a Week 17 victory at home over a division rival — with Rodgers’ health in question both times — that resulted in a hard-fought division championship. But unlike last year’s 8-7-1 club that squeaked into the No. 4 seed, the Packers are well-positioned this year to do some damage in January.
That scenario seemed hard to imagine after Green Bay got blown out at Seattle on that Thursday night of Week 1, or even when the Packers slipped to 1-2 after their defeat in Detroit, prompting that well-timed reminder from Rodgers to Cheeseheads everywhere: R-E-L-A-X. But there’s no need to chill now. The Packers have rebounded and look as ready as anyone in the NFC to challenge Seattle for conference supremacy.
We’d be foolish to discount the chances of the wild-card Cardinals or Lions, or look past the suddenly red-hot Panthers or Cowboys in the NFC field. Dallas, after all, already owns a statement-game win in Seattle this season, back in mid-October. But the Seahawks and Packers are just one home win in the divisional round away from the rematch that has seemed possible and perhaps even meant to be ever since the season began: Green Bay at Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
Both teams still have work to do to get there. But both the Seahawks and Packers have already come a very long way this season and don’t seem likely to be deterred until they settle the issue in the NFC themselves.
Week 17 just provided more indication the Seahawks are strong favorites to end that drought. It marked their sixth straight victory. They have allowed a total of 39 points during that span.
The hot streak ensured that to win the NFC again, they won’t need to leave Seattle, where they are 16-2 over the past two seasons. They are 4-1 overall against the rest of the NFC playoff field, just losing to the Cowboys and not playing the Lions. They are on track to finish the playoffs the way they began the regular season, with a home-field edge over Aaron Rodgers and the No. 2 seed Packers.
Just like going into last year’s playoffs, everyone is contributing to the dominance.
Russell Wilson is making big plays when nothing’s there, getting help from another unheralded group of receivers.
Marshawn Lynch is in full Beast Mode running over opponents in the second half.
The defense, which got a huge touchdown-saving play (Earl Thomas) and another touchdown-making play (Bruce Irvin) to put away the Rams, is suffocating teams on every level from pass rush to secondary, deep down the roster.
The Seahawks have every man clicking going into the playoffs, and know they will have ‘The 12th Man’ behind them again all the way. In other words, everything is going their way to roll to Arizona to become the next Patriots, very possibly over the Patriots.
1. If not for a pair of turnovers and a failed fourth-down conversion, the Seahawks would have won this one in a laugher. The defense remains the NFL’s most suffocating, having surrendered a total of three touchdowns in the past six games. They became the first team to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed for three consecutive seasons since the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings. The road to the Super Bowl runs through CenturyLink Field, where Seattle is 16-2 over the past two years.
2. The “Legion of Boom” wrecked Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick and Peyton Manning en route to last year’s Super Bowl victory. Although they have been stingier in their current stretch, it should be noted that the dominance has come against Drew Stanton, Mark Sanchez, Colin Kaepernick (twice), Ryan Lindley and Shaun Hill — four of whom opened the season on the bench. The Seahawks are the NFC’s heavy favorites by dint of home-field advantage and postseason experience, but the Cowboys and Packers certainly won’t view them as invincible.
3. The Cardinals became the 10th consecutive team to lose the week after playing Pete Carroll‘s squad. It’s a testament to their physicality, which has left opponents with a hangover going back to early last season.
If Dallas has to go on the road in the playoffs, they can do it. Thanks to the win over Washington, the Cowboys finished the season 8-0 on the road.
Since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978, there have only been six teams — including the Cowboys — to finish undefeated on the road. Of the prior five teams to go 8-0 on the road, four of them went to the Super Bowl (two won) and the one that didn’t made it to the NFC title game (49ers in 1990).
The most dangerous place to play in the postseason is definitely Seattle, but the Cowboys have ‘been there, done that.’ In Week 6, Dallas beat the Seahawks 30-23 in Seattle.
Every playoff team has holes, but right now the Cowboys look like they’ve patched up most of theirs.
The Cowboys have won four in a row and all of the sudden are on a roll that might take them all the way to Glendale, Arizona.
Seahawks: Grade B – The Seahawks offense played arguably its worst first half of the season, but that didn’t matter thanks to an invaluable defense that shut the Rams down. It was almost fitting that the defense iced the game with a Bruce Irvin pick-6 in the fourth quarter. The win gives the Seahawks homefield advantage in the playoffs, something that’s not good news for everyone else in the NFC.
Rams: Grade C – The Rams couldn’t get their running game going, but that’s not their fault, the Seahawks defense does that to everyone. St. Louis only rushed for 42 yards, the team’s lowest total of 2014. The Rams previous low was 69 yards.
At this point, heading into the playoffs, the Seahawks look close to unstoppable. They are No. 1 in the league in total defense and also top the league in rushing offense.
It’s that hard-nosed combination that opponents may find impossible to stop come January, after a fully rested Seahawks team will face the lowest-seeded remaining team after the Wild Card Games between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals.
It seems likely, given the scenarios, Seattle could find itself facing off against Detroit in the Divisional Round.
Seattle has a distinct advantage over Detroit on offense, ranking at least 10 spots ahead of the Lions in all categories. On defense, however, the two teams are much more evenly matched.
While Seattle’s defense looks up to the challenge of slowing the Lions’ offensive attack, the Seahawks offense may find itself unable to wrestle past Detroit’s stout defense.
The Fine Fifteen:
1. Seattle (12-4). There are many reason why the Seahawks will enter the postseason as the most dangerous team, but this is the big one: During Seattle’s six-game winning streak, foes have scored three touchdowns. That’s one every eight quarters.
I think this is what I think I didn’t like about Week 17
5. I think if I’m John Schneider, who is not a what-could-have-been guy, I have to ask myself at least occasionally: Why didn’t I take Golden Tate for half the money and zero compensation over (Percy) Harvin? (I know they happened 10 months apart, but if Seattle passed on Harvin, they’d have saved about $5 million in cap money annually, plus first-, third- and seventh-round picks.)
Playing in the deafening caldron called CenturyLink Field, the Rams accomplished the statistically improbable Sunday before giving in to the entirely predictable.
For two quarters a team that three weeks ago entertained visions of a .500 finish led the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks 6-0 despite being outgained 189-66. They did this by recovering one of three home team fumbles and intercepting a Russell Wilson overthrow. The Rams didn’t gain a yard on one scoring “drive” and generated one play longer than 10 yards — a 12-yard catch-and-run by running back Tre Mason — before intermission.
In other words, the Rams attempted to work the same formula that produced their Oct. 19 upset of the Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome.
Muck up the game with defense and hope something good happens at the end.
But counting on such good fortune leaves little room for error. The Rams too often showed themselves this season vulnerable to a cataclysmic play. Playing from behind isn’t their style.
Actually, Sunday’s 20-6 loss demonstrated why the words “style” and “offense” should never appear in the same sentence when discussing a 6-10 team that scored three touchdowns in its last three games.
Able to get the game they wanted, the Rams suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown reminiscent of their debacle against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10.
The Rams played the Seahawks to a tie through three quarters before committing three ghastly turnovers, including quarterback Shaun Hill’s baffling throw into a defensive lineman’s midsection and a juggle-turned-Pick-Six that put the Seahawks up by two scores, otherwise known as the Rams’ point of no return.
Way back in Week 1, when the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Green Bay Packers, it was a common thought that they would walk through the NFC and face off for a second-straight Super Bowl title. But then the team struggled and cooled off as the locker room needed sorted out and the roster needed to jell. But now, with January almost here, the Seahawks are back to being the NFC’s dominant team.
Homefield advantage is dangerous for any team, but for Seattle it’s life. The road to the Super Bowl goes through their home turf, and with two games under the crushing crowd noise they would be the favorites no matter the opponents.
No team in the NFC is as complete as Seattle, or can boast such a balance in the run game and the way they attack on defense. And perhaps most importantly, they do not make mistakes on offense, defense or special teams. And that’s why they’re a clear favorite to repeat as NFC champs.
Once again, the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks lead the NFL playoffs as the best team in the NFC. There are lot of changes from 2013, however, with only six other teams returning to challenge Seattle. Here’s how everything settled after a wild final Sunday of action in Week 17:
No. 1 seed: Seahawks (12-4). They became NFC West champions and locked down the conference’s pole position for the second straight postseason with a resounding 20-6 comeback win over St. Louis. Marshawn Lynch and his teammates look just as beastly as last year. They’ll get a bye before facing either Carolina, Arizona or Detroit next in the divisional round.
Even Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll couldn’t resist an I-told-you-so moment.
“All you guys kept talking about how we couldn’t do this,” Carroll said. “You can’t come back from all this stuff [people said]. You can. We just did. We got back as division champs.”
After falling to 6-4, the Seahawks ran the table through the toughest part of the schedule and are right back where they wanted to be — the No. 1 seed in the NFC and playing at home throughout the playoffs. Are they better now than the Super Bowl winners of a year ago? Could this team beat the one from last season?
“It’s different circumstances, but this is a little bit better,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “You’re 3-3 and people were doubting you, but there was no doubt in our locker room. To come back and show that resilience, I would pick this team.”
The Seahawks went into halftime down 6-0 to a plucky Rams team, but dominated the second half thanks to a Bruce Irvin pick-six and a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run, and now lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the second straight season. The defending Super Bowl Champs own one of the strongest home-field advantages in the NFL. They are 22-2 in their last 24 home games a span where they have outscored opponents by 357 points and have 55 takeaways and a +22 turnover margin.
Seattle’s road to the No. 1 seed has been a bit rocky this season as it struggled with many of the issues that typically plague Super Bowl winners, but the Seahawks set themselves up well for a run at a repeat.
We’ve seen this one before: The Rams fight hard, hang in the game, then make a couple of costly mistakes that prove to the be the difference.
After taking an early 6-0 lead on the defending Super Bowl champions, the Rams couldn’t add to that point total even though they got as close as the Seattle half-yard line.
A busted coverage by — surprise! — Janoris Jenkins led to the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. That followed a play in which quarterback Shaun Hill tried to throw the ball in the ground but instead threw an interception.
The last gasp came with 6 minutes to play when Benny Cunningham, lunging for the end zone and a touchdown, had the ball slapped away and out of the end zone. The result was a touchback, with Seattle taking over at its 20.
The end result was a 20-6 loss that left the Rams at 6-10, their worst record since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach in 2012. Seattle, winners of six in a row and nine of their last 10, finished at 12-4 to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs.
On a play that summed up the Rams’ futility, Shaun Hill tried to throw a pass into the ground and got intercepted instead. Repeat, HILL MISSED THE GROUND. Seattle defensive tackle Jordan Hill lunged to make a nice play on the ball, true, but a quarterback can’t miss the ground at this level. Hill complete some decent throws in catch-up mode, but he also short-armed some early passes and doomed the Rams with his big mistake.
Seattle held five of its final six opponents to less than 10 points. The Seahawks became the first team since the 1969-71 Vikings to lead the NFL in scoring defense in three straight seasons, giving up 15.9 points per game.
“It just helps our case for a pretty great defense,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Seattle’s defense came up with continuous big plays when needed, forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter. Jordan Hill and Irvin had interceptions and Earl Thomas knocked the ball from Benny Cunningham at the 1-yard line as the Rams looked to score with six minutes left, sending the ball out of the end zone for a touchback.
“Any other person in the league would have probably slowed down and let him score,” Irvin said. “Earl being one of our leaders, he leads by example. … A play like that is all he has to do.”
(Jeff) Fisher’s track record of mediocrity now takes up the majority of his two-decade coaching record. In nearly 20 full seasons as an NFL head coach, Fisher has six winning years. His teams have rarely been terrible; they’ve won fewer than six games just twice in the years he’s coached a full season.
Fisher is still owed nearly $14 million over the next two seasons, so it would be a major surprise to see the Rams make a change, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s the man who can take them from the dregs of the NFL to a legitimate contender. His history would indicate the answer is no.
Few head coaches are given a fourth season after posting losing records in each of their first three years with a team. Buffalo’s Dick Jauron is the most recent example, and he only made it nine games into his fourth season before the Bills sent him packing.
For Fisher and Co. to extend their stay in St. Louis, they’ll need to solve the same puzzle plaguing about half the league right now: finding a short- and long-term quarterback solution. As it stands, that plan probably includes attempting to bring Sam Bradford back at a reduced rate and using an early pick — the Rams have the 10th overall pick in April’s draft — on another young signal-caller.
Either way, there’s no obvious solution, and with the idea of bringing Bradford back and the likelihood of retaining most of the coaching staff, the Rams look poised to again push their chips into the middle of the table, largely with what’s in place.
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