Russell Wilson, compulsively thorough and detailed, concluded his postgame press conference as is his custom, with an enthusiastic “Go Hawks.”
But this time he paused a moment, recognizing a critical omission: “NFC West Champs.”
The Seahawks earned the title in a game on Sunday that amounted to the world’s largest outdoor bar fight.
They tempered their toughness with intelligence, though, and waded through ankle-deep penalty flags thrown against the frustrated Rams to score a 27-9 victory at CenturyLink Field.
“I think the thing we did extremely well, despite what was going on around us, we kept our poise, we kept our composure,” Wilson said.
The Seahawks last won a division title in 2010, but that was a low-rent pennant purchased with a 7-9 record – to the snickers of the rest of the NFL.
But this was totally legit, as their 13-3 record brought them out on top of the NFL’s best division and earned them home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
As the weeks progressed and expectations rose in unrealistic increments, coach Pete Carroll taught his team to consider every game a “championship opportunity.”
So, when they actually got to this season’s last championship opportunity, they knew what to do because of the lessons learned.
“We feel like every game is big, has some kind of adversity we have to learn to deal with,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Through the course of the season, every game prepared us for this moment – and for the rest of the moments we’re left to have this season.”
The lessons learned? How about a few of these:
The last time Seattle faced St. Louis, receiver Golden Tate had a nice touchdown, but was flagged for taunting. On Sunday, he not only compiled a career-high 129 receiving yards, but he didn’t taunt – at least not enough to draw a flag.
The last time Seattle faced St. Louis, the defense surrendered 200 rushing yards, a huge blow to their pride. Sunday, they pinched the Rams down to 13 yards on 18 rushes. That’s 26 inches per handoff.
The Seahawks came into this game as the NFL’s most-penalized team, but on this day, it was the Rams that were instigators and hot-heads, getting penalized 12 times – and were flagged for 19 total violations when you count offsetting and declined infractions.
As tackle Breno Giacomini, formerly a noted blue-line enforcer for the Hawks suddenly converted to pacifism, said: “I’m just trying to do my job; I don’t know why those guys like to hit me.”
Wilson, meanwhile, was coming off his worst game of the season, but he put together a passer rating of 102.1 in the face of heavy Rams pressure.
Running back Marshawn Lynch hadn’t averaged 4.0 yards per carry in a game since Nov. 10, but against a rugged Rams front seven, he pounded out 97 yards on 23 carries – 4.2 per.
On this day, they showed that it’s the boxers rather than the punchers who win the titles.
And if a functioning team is something of a mechanism, it’s best when the parts are interchangeable.
Afterward, no one had questions about Percy Harvin or Sidney Rice, $20 million worth of broken receivers unavailable to them. They only noted the terrific game by Tate.
Nobody talked about Brandon Browner, suspended Pro Bowl cornerback, but about the great recent play by fill-in Byron Maxwell.
And, while valuable linebacker K.J. Wright was not available with a foot injury, his replacement, Malcolm Smith, had an interception return for a touchdown in the first period that might have just set the tone for the entire game.
“We’re a close team; everybody gets along,” tight end Zach Miller said. “We’re all pulling together and everyone is so unselfish that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win. To be a part of that kind of group of guys is awesome.”
And is that sense of brotherhood a contributing factor in those few teams that win championships?
“Absolutely,” Miller said. “We have good players who want to win – and they want to do it together.”