SEATTLE -- For most of the day, the St. Louis Rams-Seattle Seahawks game looked more like a mixed martial arts cage match than an NFL regular-season finale.
The Seahawks have a reputation of losing their cool in games when things get chippy, chirpy, feisty and ugly. This time, with everything on the line for Seattle, the players held back. The new level-headed Seahawks showed up just in time.
It was the Rams who lost their composure as the Seattle players, for the most part, kept calm and earned all their regular-season goals with a 27-9 victory at CenturyLink Field.
After losing two of the previous three games, the Seahawks needed to win the regular season finale to earn the NFC West title, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage.
The Seahawks have next weekend off before playing either Green Bay, San Francisco or New Orleans, whichever winning team next weekend is the lowest seed.
But maybe the best thing for the Seahawks on Sunday is they won in convincing fashion, outplaying the Rams is all phases of the game, including the mental game.
The Rams officially were flagged 12 times for 87 yards, but had nine other penalties that were offsetting or came on the same play as another St. Louis penalty. Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford was ejected after he swung his arm and accidentally knocked off an official’s hat, then slammed his helmet to the turf after the ejection.
“That’s not football,” Seattle defensive lineman Red Bryant said of the Rams' aggression. “It was desperation. I don’t agree with their style of playing. They tried to pull us into it, but we did what we had to do. But it’s good for us to have a game like this before the playoffs, because the same type of thing could happen again.”
The Seahawks were flagged seven times for 65 yards.
“Thankfully, somebody got more penalties than us for a change," said linebacker Malcolm Smith, who scored Seattle’s first touchdown with a 37-yard pick-six in the first quarter. “We knew that was their style, but we stayed focused and didn’t get caught up in it.”
Even receiver Golden Tate, or “Tate the Taunter” as he is known in St. Louis, never made a wrong move. Tate is remembered for his “halt” hand gesture in St. Louis earlier this year on an 80-yard touchdown, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
But Tate was the calm, cool and collected star of the day, catching eight passes for 129 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown catch where he didn’t wave bye-bye or anything else.
“They popped me pretty good a couple of times today,” Tate said. “But I wasn’t going to let them get in my head. I was kinda locked in. I had a lot of emotion today.”
But controlled emotion this time, something that could benefit the Seahawks in the playoffs.
“Here we are, right where we want to be,’’ Tate said. “It’s a great feeling. I’ve seen this team evolve to where it is today. I feel like we’ve come together as one.”
The Seahawks (13-3) played one of their best games when they needed it most.
The defense was a virtual brick wall, holding the Rams to 13 yards rushing on 18 carries, a complete turnaround after allowing 200 yards rushing in the 14-9 victory earlier this year in St. Louis. Zac Stacy, who rushed for 134 yards in the first meeting, had 15 yards on 15 carries.
The Seattle offense sputtered early, but had an impressive 80-yard drive in the third quarter to take a 20-3 lead on a 2-yard run by Marshawn Lynch. It was Lynch’s best day in more than a month, rushing for 97 yards on 23 carries.
Despite four sacks, Russell Wilson completed 15-of-23 passes for 172 yards and the big TD throw to Tate.
“We were just so physical today on both sides of the ball,” Wilson said. “Everybody really clicked. The game was extremely chippy, but we did the right thing every time, despite everything going on around us.”
This was the game that proved how good the Seahawks can be. There were some doubts over the past three weeks.
Seattle was 11-1 after the 34-7 victory over New Orleans and looked unbeatable. But they lost the next week at San Francisco 19-17 and suffered their only home loss in two seasons last week to Arizona, 17-10.
This game, they looked more like the team that was 11-1 then the team that was 1-2 over the previous three weeks.
“We wanted to make sure we played with championship poise,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “Our guys did a really good job of handling it the way we wanted them to handle it today.”
Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was proud at how his teammates responded Sunday.
“The Rams (7-9) had nothing to play for out there, so they were just trying to fight,” Wagner said. “But we kept out cool. Now the ultimate goal is within our reach.”
The players said they had some added instruction about how to handle themselves with so much on the line. NBA legend Bill Russell spoke to the team on Saturday.
“He said the will of man is stronger than anything you can believe,” said Seattle receiver Ricardo Lockette, who had two huge hits on special teams Sunday. “After that, we looked each other in the eyes and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’ We fought for each other.”
Seattle now is two home wins away from the Super Bowl.
“I’m just grateful to be a part of this team at this moment,” Bryant said. “Hopefully, we can do something special with it.”