The Seahawks came into their Thursday night showdown with the Rams needing a win to clinch the NFC West and to keep pace in the race for the top seed in the NFC. A win is what they got, and it wasn't close in the end against a Rams team that had beaten the Seahawks in the three previous meetings -- though at the half it sure felt like this might be another game that would come down to the wire.
The Seahawks led just 10-3 at the half despite the Rams mustering almost nothing offensively. Russell Wilson finally got rolling after the break, though, and his efficiency combined with a smothering defense led to Seattle pulling away for what turned into a 24-3 blowout win.
About that defense: the Seahawks held the Rams to 172 yards on 56 plays, a disgusting average of just 3.7 yards per play. To put that in perspective, the NFL average was 5.5 yards per play coming into the game. The Rams themselves ranked 32nd in the league, at 4.7 per play. Yeah. It was that bad.
The Seattle secondary limited No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff to 135 yards on 13 of 25 passing, and the defensive line knocked him around with five sacks and several more hits. Richard Sherman knocked him out of the game with a crunching -- and clean -- hit along the sideline when Goff tried to fight for an extra yard rather than going out of bounds.
Todd Gurley couldn't get untracked either, as his offensive line was overwhelmed and provided zilch in the way of running lanes all night. His 14 carries totaled only 38 yards, an average of just 2.7 a pop. Yeah. It was that bad.
And then there was Wilson. A meaningless late-game pick excepted, he was excellent pretty much throughout the evening. The final line: 19 of 26 for 229 yards, three touchdowns and that interception. And he did it without the benefit of a running game, as Thomas Rawls was held under 2.5 yards per carry himself.
The Seahawks now sit comfortably in the catbird seat for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, and they're nipping at the Cowboys' heels for the No. 1 spot. Given the way this season started for them, you can't ask for much more than that.
Here are five more things to know about the Seahawks' division-clinching win.
There's a first time for everything
This game was John Fassel's first as the Rams head coach. The former special teams coach took over as the interim man when Jeff Fisher was fired earlier this week. He apparently told Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in some production meetings this week that he planned to be ultra-aggressive on fourth downs, and he held to that promise.
- On Los Angeles' second drive, the Rams faced fourth-and-1 from the 6-yard line. Fassel elected to go for it. The Rams let the play clock run all the way down and to call timeout because they got out of the huddle too slowly. They eventually ran a toss sweep to Todd Gurley, who initially appeared to pick up the first down -- but it was overturned on review. (More on that in a second)
- Fassel later called for a fake punt on fourth-and-9 but punter Johnny Hekker -- who has actually completed several passes in his career -- threw it into the ground and the Seahawks took over in Los Angeles territory.
- They were forced into going for two more fourth downs later in the game but came up short both times.
I thought this tweet captured the idea behind Fassel's strategy best:
It's every special teams coach's dream to take over as head coach and call the fake punt from your own 30. No regrets.— Mitch Goldich (@mitchgoldich) December 16, 2016
No regrets? None?
Maybe a few.
I challenge you to a challenge duel
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll used his challenges very early in the game. On Seattle's first drive, he challenged the spot of the ball on a completion to Tyler Lockett. It was initially ruled that Lockett did not achieve the line to gain for a first down, but Carroll won the challenge and Seattle kept the ball.
Seattle later punted, and when the Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 deep in Seattle territory on the ensuing drive, Carroll risked his second challenge of the game. Todd Gurley took a toss sweep to the left side of the formation and it was initially ruled that he achieved the line to gain for a first down, but Carroll got the call overturned.
How can we eliminate spot-of-the-ball challenges?
Know how you guys hit Mars with a margin of error akin to a hole-in-one in Los Angeles from New York?— Patrick Claybon (@PatrickClaybon) December 16, 2016
Come help us w/ spotting Footballs https://t.co/PHYIiTrgiH
Pretty good idea, if you ask me.
Anyway, just over 11 minutes into the game, Seattle had used both challenges. Luckily, Carroll won both, and they were awarded a third challenge, per the rules. It took him all of six and a half minutes of game time to use the third challenge, as he again contested the spot of the ball on a third-down play.
My God, they're challenging a spot for the third time in 18 minutes of game time. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.— Stephen Cohen (@scohenPI) December 16, 2016
Doug Baldwin was ruled short of the line to gain on a sideline pass, and the call was upheld, robbing Carroll of the chance to become the first coach in NFL history to win all three challenges in a game.
The Seahawks went for it on fourth down and came up short, as Wilson short-armed a pass intended for fullback Marcel Reese, but the Rams were called for holding on the play. On the next snap, the Seahawks found the end zone.
The Seahawks later got a break on another review, as a pass intended for Jimmy Graham appeared to be intercepted but was called incomplete on the field. Fassel threw his red flag, but the play stood as called. Doug Baldwin caught a touchdown pass two plays later.
Los Angeles derps
It wasn't just Fassel that had a rough night for the Rams.
- Michael Thomas dropped what should have been an easy touchdown after beating Steven Terrell deep down the field.
- Goff missed a wide open Brian Quick in the front of the end zone on third-and-1 at the 6-yard line, which led to the Rams coming up short on their initial fourth-down attempt.
- Hekker severely under-threw his pass on the fake punt.
Just about the only Rams unit that showed up to play was the defensive front. Aaron Donald, William Hayes, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, and Ethan Westbrooks all made plays at different points throughout the evening.
I don't have much to say about this but we couldn't do this recap without including the moving pictures of Doug Baldwin absolutely shaking Troy Hill out of his pants.
That's just mean.
The Tyler Lockett breakout we've been waiting for
Speaking of Seattle wide receivers: Tyler Lockett got the first start of his career at wide receiver, and he made the most of it. Injured and ineffective through the early part of the season, Lockett is back at full health now, and he replaced Jermaine Kearse in the Seahawks' two-wide sets.
His final line on the game: seven catches, 130 yards, and a touchdown. That score was a beauty, a 57-yarder on which Lockett simply simply beat the coverage down the field with his wheels.
He's a dangerous weapon, and it would be huge for the Seahawks if they can get him involved consistently. Thursday night was a good start.