SEATTLE -- Pulled over his dapper shirt-and-tie combo, Leon Washington proudly wore a blue NFC West division champion T-shirt and hat.
Pete Carroll thought it was "pretty cool" to be going to the playoffs with a losing record.
Make jokes and laugh all you want at the Seattle Seahawks making the postseason as the champions of the weakest division in football, and with a losing record.
But they're not going to be embarrassed for setting some dubious NFL history on their way to the playoffs.
"There is no apologies for making it into the playoffs. The easiest way to make it to the playoffs is to win your division, period, point-blank," Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy said. "We did that."
The Seahawks became the first-sub. 500 division champs on Sunday night with a 16-6 win over the St. Louis Rams to wrap up their first division title since 2007. They secured a home playoff date with defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans on Saturday.
Seattle finished a laughable 7-9 and tied with St. Louis, but won the title thanks to a better division record than St. Louis, 4-2 vs. 3-3.
"I guess we won for all the teams that have a losing record and think they can't be champions. It can get done, you can do it," Carroll said. "Somehow it happened."
Critics have gladly taken shots about the NFC West this season and reignited the debate whether division champs should automatically be granted home playoff games. The New York Giants and Tampa Bay have better records within the NFC at 10-6 and both clubbed Seattle earlier this season.
But it's the Seahawks who are playoff-bound.
"It just shows that no matter what happens through an awkward year if a team sticks together they can have a shot at the end to accomplish what they talked about in the beginning," Milloy said. "We know it wasn't pretty getting here, but what we talked about was right there at the end and we took advantage of it. No body can take that away from us."
Making his second career start, backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst threw a 4-yard TD pass to Mike Williams on Seattle's first possession and kicker Olindo Mare connected on three second-half field goals.
That was more than enough thanks to a maligned defense that finally found some swagger just in time to rattle St. Louis' rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and end the Rams' feel-good turnaround from a year ago. At this time last year, St. Louis was preparing to draft Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick after winning just one game.
Sunday night, they were despondent after seeing their chance at a division title and becoming the third 8-8 division champ in league history slide away.
"I don't even know if I can tell you right now," Bradford said of his frustration. "The fact our defense played, in my opinion, pretty great, the fact that we let the team down, that we couldn't get anything going, that's what really hurts."
St. Louis (7-9) was kept out of the end zone for the second time this season and Bradford finished 19 of 36 for 155 yards, with a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter.
Seattle's defense that allowed at least 34 points in four of its last five games, suddenly showed a backbone, making St. Louis' conservative offensive approach seem even slower. The Rams managed just 63 yards in the second half and, with the exception of a fumble recovered at the Seattle 21, didn't even cross midfield until midway through the fourth quarter.
"For the most part we just were out of sync ..." Rams running back Steven Jackson said. "But I don't think they completely shut down the office."
Now the question for Seattle is who will be the quarterback for its first home playoff game since a January 2008 win over Washington. Carroll was noncommittal late Sunday night who would start against the Saints. Matt Hasselbeck was active against the Rams and went through pregame warmups, but Carroll held to his word and the Seahawks went with Whitehurst after Hasselbeck injured his hip last week against Tampa Bay.
Whitehurst didn't fail in the second start of his career. He wasn't spectacular, but he avoided any critical mistakes: no interceptions, no dumb throws, no miscues a team like Seattle couldn't afford. Carroll said he kept Hasselbeck out fearing the injury would have made him "vulnerable" to the Rams' pass rush.
For his part, Whitehurst did scramble for 30 yards rushing, part of the 141 yards on the ground by the Seahawks.
"You know, this is what I love to do, this is what we all love to do, this is why we're here," Whitehurst said. "So after the first few plays it's kind of business as usual."
Whitehurst finished 22 of 36 for 192 yards with his lone touchdown, a 4-yard toss across the field to Williams on Seattle's first drive. Mare connected from 31, 38 and 34 yards in the second half and Seattle spent the final minute with Carroll screaming into the air and players slapping hands with fans in the end zone.
"It's been rough the last couple years," Seattle running back Justin Forsett said. "I've never been in this position before. I just want to seize it and run with it."
While the Seahawks could celebrate, Steven Jackson slumped on the bench in the final minutes after the Rams' best offensive threat went mostly unused. Jackson had just 11 carries for 45 yards, continuing a streak of failing to crack 100 yards in his career against the Seahawks.
When the Rams did cross midfield in the fourth quarter, down just 13-7, Bradford followed with his one big mistake, an interception thrown right at linebacker Will Herring, the first pick of his career.
Seattle then ran off the next 7 minutes as Mare connected from 34 yards with 1:37 left, ending the Rams' chance at their first division title since 2003.
"It's just frustrating to get this far and have an opportunity to make the playoffs, and to come up short," Bradford said. "Just frustrating."
Seattle G Chester Pitts left in the second half with a head injury and did not return. ... Seattle LT Russell Okung left briefly in the first half after injuring his left ankle, but returned after halftime. Seattle had just seven active offensive linemen. ... Jackson was the Rams' leading receiver with four receptions for 39 yards. ... St. Louis has lost 11 of 12 to Seattle.
- Jerome Boger