SEATTLE – At a time when the Seattle Seahawks have had enough cracks exposed to look like a jigsaw puzzle, the remedy was only a rival away.
The struggling Seahawks can thank goodness for the NFC West.
A winless St. Louis Rams team provided a perfect tonic for the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon, when the division’s other two teams also fell on their keisters. With Seattle’s 33-6 win over the Rams, the Seahawks head into their bye week in a familiar position atop the NFC West.
No matter what’s gone wrong – and by the looks of Sunday’s game, there are still plenty of question marks – Seattle (4-3) remains the class of the division.
“Obviously, we’ve got some things to work on and some things we can get better at,” offensive lineman Rob Sims said. “But it feels good where we are right now, with the bye week coming up. It’s a chance to sit back, contemplate, and relax a little bit.”
Led by a kickoff return touchdown by Nate Burleson at the beginning of the second half, and four field goals from Josh Brown, the Seahawks ended their two-game slide with a rout. St. Louis (0-7) became the first team in Rams history to lose their first seven games.
The Rams’ offense, depleted by injuries, couldn’t do much against an inspired Seattle defense. The Seahawks had a season-high seven sacks, including four by Darryl Tapp, while holding St. Louis to 221 yards of total offense.
Seattle was only slightly better on offense. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck struggled while playing with a strained oblique muscle, and the running game continued to look punchless.
Thanks to two touchdown receptions from fill-in starting tight end Will Heller, as well as the strong performance from Seattle’s special teams unit, the Seahawks overcame their deficiencies and thrashed the hapless Rams.
“You’ve still got to play,” offensive lineman Sean Locklear said of facing a winless team. “Just look at last week. Everybody was saying Seattle was going to win the game easily, but (the winless New Orleans Saints) came to play, and we end up losing. We didn’t let that happen this week.”
Hasselbeck got off to a great start Sunday, completing 10 of his first 14 passes for 106 yards, including a 1-yard TD pass to Heller. But after taking a big hit from Rams defensive tackle Claude Wroten midway through the second quarter, Hasselbeck was in visible pain and struggled to find his targets. He was 3 of 11 the rest of the half, while the Seahawks held a slim, 10-3 halftime lead.
Then Burleson broke off a 91-yard return touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half, and the route was on. Brown added three second-half field goals, Heller caught an 11-yard TD reception, and the Seahawks earned their first win since Sept. 30.
Along the way, Seattle’s defense made sure that the hobbled Rams offense didn’t find a rhythm. St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger, playing with two broken ribs, was 21 of 40 while throwing three interceptions. An offensive line that finished the game with five different players than were in the Week 1 starting lineup yielded seven sacks. And the Steven Jackson-less running game managed just 53 total yards.
It was enough to make Rams tight end Randy McMichael conclude: “Offensively, we stunk up the football field.”
In the Seahawks’ last two games against NFC West opponents, they have outscored St. Louis and San Francisco 56-9 while allowing 405 total yards. In their past two games against non-division opponents, Seattle got outscored 49-17 by Pittsburgh and New Orleans and gave up 709 yards.
“It’s a big weight off our shoulders and a big win coming into the bye week,” said Heller, who scored on two of his three receptions Sunday. “Coming off two losses, and against a division opponent, that makes it a great win.”
The Seahawks entered the day tied with Arizona atop the NFC West, but the Cardinals held the tiebreaker by way of a head-to-head win over Seattle in Week 2. Ten minutes before the kickoff at Qwest Field, the Cardinals dropped a heartbreaker at Washington when Neil Rackers missed a field goal as time expired.
Seattle then took care of business with the convincing win over St. Louis.
“We want to be able to play until the last game of February and win, and to be able to do that you have to be in the playoffs,” said running back Shaun Alexander, who had another modest afternoon with 47 yards on 19 carries. “The best way to get into the playoffs is to win the division and get a home game. That gives you a good chance. So being in first place is very helpful for us. We have to find a way to win the division.”
While the NFC West looks like Seattle’s division to win again, the Seahawks aren’t celebrating yet.
“We’ve got to keep winning to stay in first place,” safety Deon Grant said. “First place don’t mean nothing right now. It doesn’t mean anything unless we keep winning and playing like a first-place team.”