Seahawks open door for Rams in NFC West

Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks need go-to receiver Mike Williams to play if they hope to salvage their season. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

SEATTLE -- Speaking with go-to receiver Mike Williams on Friday planted the seed in Matt Hasselbeck's increasingly hopeful head.

Seeing Williams walk around the Seattle Seahawks' team hotel Saturday night gave the veteran quarterback reason to believe Williams might play Sunday against Kansas City.

Watching Williams run during warm-ups Sunday just about sold Hasselbeck on the idea.

"I probably shouldn't have let my mind go there, but I expected him a little bit," Hasselbeck said following the Seahawks' division-altering 42-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Qwest Field. "That is a good lesson."

There were other lessons on a Sunday that left the Seahawks and St. Louis Rams tied atop the NFC West at 5-6, with the Rams holding the tiebreaker pending their Week 17 game in Seattle.

The team with the most consistently productive quarterback figures to win the division title. That team can be Seattle if Williams' injured left foot heals well enough to get him back on the field before long. That team can be the Rams, too, now that their dynamic rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford, has proven he can win on the road.

While the Seahawks were getting pushed around at home for the second time in as many games here, the Rams were taking an important step with a 36-33 victory at Denver.

Bradford threw three touchdown passes to tight ends Billy Bajema (two) and Mike Hoomanawanui (one). The No. 1 overall draft choice now has 11 touchdown passes with only one interception since his leading receiver, Mark Clayton, landed on injured reserve after five games. He also has a reasonably healthy offensive line and a Pro Bowl running back, assets Hasselbeck can't rely upon.

"We're too hurt," Hasselbeck said after watching center Chris Spencer limp off the field late in the game. "We have to get healthy."

This was as resigned as Carroll or Hasselbeck had sounded all season.

"It was a most disappointing day," Carroll said to open his postgame news conference.

Meanwhile, the Rams' ability to deal with injury losses at receiver might give them an edge.

Before the Rams lost Clayton, they lost No. 1 receiver Donnie Avery to a season-ending knee injury. A high-ankle sprain stunted Hoomanawanui's development following a strong camp. Hoomanawanui missed four games and is only now rounding into form physically. No matter.

A few weeks with Bradford seems to make just about everyone productive. Bajema had never caught a touchdown pass in 84 career games before Sunday. Hoomanawanui has three touchdowns in his past five games. Slot receiver Danny Amendola trailed only the Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White in third-down receptions heading into Week 12.

Williams was ranked fourth.

Taking away Williams from the Seahawks made Hasselbeck appear lost for long stretches Sunday.

It's a testament to how dominant Williams had become before a foot injury sent him to the sideline six catches and 109 yards into another masterpiece performance against New Orleans one week ago. With the 6-foot-5 Williams catching 10-plus passes regularly, Hasselbeck had come to resemble a basketball player shooting into a hula hoop. He felt as though he couldn't miss.

"Mike has been a big factor for us and he's helped Matt out immensely and made a bunch of third-down catches with guys hanging all over him," coach Pete Carroll said.

Hasselbeck beat the Chiefs' suspect defense for a few deep strikes Sunday, but he had trouble functioning from play to play. He had no running game, no help from his overmatched defense and no real chance even though Kansas City had lost four of five road games previously this season.

All this focus on the quarterback's fate without his leading receiver might seem overblown given the systemic failures Seattle experienced Sunday. Indeed, the Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe caught 13 passes for 170 yards. Teammate Jamaal Charles carried 22 times for 173 yards on the ground. Matt Cassel finished with four touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 129.3 rating. Seattle's defense was the story, too.

And yet we already knew the Seahawks would struggle to stop most anyone after losing half its defensive line -- notably Red Bryant, the player Seattle built its run defense around. But with Williams becoming a nearly unstoppable force on third down in particular, Seattle was sustaining drives well enough to cover for some of its defensive problems.

That isn't going to happen with Williams on the sideline. They're hoping he can return at home against Carolina in Week 13, but the foot would not allow Williams to cut when the team worked him out during warm-ups.

"You can feel we missed the consistency of going to Mike today," Carroll said. "That wasn't there. We have to adapt, but that wasn't in existence and it was something we have kind of been feeding off a little bit."

Williams made 32 catches in the Seahawks' three most recent victories. The team had largely fixed the pass-protection issues that doomed the Seahawks against Oakland in Week 8. Hasselbeck was gaining momentum after missing the Week 9 debacle against the New York Giants. He wasn't the same without Williams and it prevented the Seahawks from fully exploiting the numerous chances Kansas City served up before finally pulling away with a 21-7 fourth quarter.

Where do the Seahawks go from here? They'll probably get to 6-6 at home against Carolina before heading to San Francisco. But the idea that playing four home games over the final six weeks would allow Seattle to coast into the playoffs was a mirage -- sort of like Williams' potential availability against Kansas City. The Rams drove home that message in Denver.

The winner of the San Francisco-Arizona game Monday night will pull within one game of St. Louis and Seattle in the standings.

The Seahawks have lost four of their past five. They have lost twice at home, squandering the ground they gained with road victories over Chicago and Arizona. They're in a fight to save their season.

To say the Seahawks will need all hands on deck isn't being specific enough. They'll need Williams' hands to get where they want to go.