Before a rowdy crowd at CenturyLink Field, Seattle completed an unbeaten home schedule and raised its final regular-season record to 11-5 with a 20-13 victory over the visiting Rams. But by then San Francisco had denied the Seahawks the division championship with a 27-13 decision over the lowly Cardinals.
Those two outcomes leave the Seahawks as the NFC's No. 5 playoff seed, and they will travel to face NFC East Division champ Washington in a 1:30 p.m. first-round playoff game next Sunday.
Had the 49ers lost, Seattle would have enjoyed a first-round bye and a second-round home game. So that much was disappointing, yes, but on Sunday none of the Seahawks were complaining.
“I'm so excited, I'm ecstatic,” said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. “It's a great opportunity. We've got 11 wins in the regular season, and now the whole season starts over.”
To reach the Super Bowl the Seahawks will have to win three straight postseason games, and likely all three will be on the road. “But no matter where we go, 100 yards is 100 yards,” Wilson pointed out. “We'll be ready to play.”
In terms of momentum, few of the NFL's 12 playoff teams can match the Seahawks, who step into the postseason having won five in a row and seven of their past eight games.
“That's exactly how we would like to finish, regardless of what happened in the first half (of the season),” said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. “Get all those wins ... and feel good. Be rolling at this part of the season and the playoffs. That's a real good feeling.”
Facing an upcoming trip to Washington, Carroll added, “our guys are strong and they're ready to go.”
The Seahawks won just three of five road games this season, but won their last two at Chicago and against Buffalo in Toronto.
Seattle's playoff opener “is a chance, an opportunity,” center Max Unger said. “We have to go on the road where we've struggled a little bit this year, but I think we kind of turned the corner in the second half of the season and figured it out a little bit.”
“It doesn't really matter whether it's on the road or at home,” said Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant. “We just have to keep playing our style of football and see what happens.”
“Every field is the same,” agreed safety Earl Thomas. “I know our crowd is great here, but we can win on the road, too. We can win in hostile environments, and we've been proving that in the second half of the season.”
The Seahawks were coming off three straight lopsided wins — they beat Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco by a combined score of 150-30 — but the game against St. Louis was a struggle. Seattle trailed 7-3 at halftime and did not go on top to stay until a late fourth-quarter scoring march that covered 90 yards in 10 plays to break a 13-13 tie.
Wilson was outstanding on the drive, and never more so than on a third-and-5 play from the Seattle 27-yard line. He dropped into the pocket, ducked under and around the St. Louis pass rush, and then stepped forward to deliver a strike to wide receiver Golden Tate up the right sideline.
Tate struggled forward for a few more yards to make it a 44-yard gain, and the Seahawks were suddenly in field goal range at the Rams 29.
But unwilling to settle for three points, Seattle pushed all the way to the end zone. Three plays after completing the long pass to Tate, Wilson scrambled for 15 yards for a first-and-goal at the St. Louis 4.
Running back Marshawn Lynch carried around left end for an apparent touchdown, but a video review determined he stepped out of bounds at the 1. So Wilson scrambled to his left on the next play and reached the end zone for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown.
In the end, Carroll said, “it was a good, hard-fought win, and it was nice to finish like that in a tough situation. To actually come from behind to get it done. ... I'm real proud of the way these guys finished (the regular season), and now we start it up again. We have a new season and we're really excited about that.”
The playoffs are “another championship opportunity,” added Seattle fullback Michael Robinson, “and we feel like we're a team to be reckoned with.”
NFL Playoff Glance
Wild-card PlayoffsSaturday, Jan. 5Cincinnati at Houston, 1:30 p.m. (NBC)Minnesota at Green Bay, 5 p.m. (NBC)Sunday, Jan. 6Indianapolis at Baltimore, 10 a.m. (CBS)Seattle at Washington, 1:30 p.m. (FOX)Divisional PlayoffsSaturday, Jan. 12Baltimore, Indianapolis or Cincinnati at Denver, 1:30 p.m. (CBS)Washington, Seattle or Green Bay at San Francisco, 5 p.m. (FOX)Sunday, Jan. 13Washington, Seattle or Minnesota at Atlanta, 10 a.m. (FOX)Baltimore, Indianapolis or Houston at New England, 1:30 p.m. (CBS)Conference ChampionshipsSunday, Jan. 20AFC, TBA (CBS)NFC, TBA (FOX)Super BowlSunday, Feb. 3At New OrleansAFC champion vs. NFC champion, 3 p.m. (CBS)