SEATTLE — Entering Sunday’s final game day of the regular season, Seattle didn’t need a calculator, advanced trigonometry or a master’s degree in mathematics to know its postseason fate.
Simply, win and the road through the NFC playoff runs through CenturyLink Field. Lose, and possibly hit the road for the playoffs.
Piggybacking on their defense, the Seahawks produced just enough offense to get away from the woebegone St. Louis Rams for a 27-9 victory.
On Jan. 11, the NFC West champions Seattle (13-3) will greet the lowest remaining seed left in the NFC Playoffs in the NFC Divisional Round as the No. 1 seed.
“Today’s effort was really Seahawks football,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “It was really like we like it. Great defense today, and we just kept sticking the running game at them until we got what we needed done. We took care of the football really well. We had a couple turnovers, and the kicking game was really solid and really good there. We played a complete game to get the thing done.”
The rest of the NFC playoffs looks vaguely familiar — as in 2005-06 familiar.
The Carolina Panthers, by virtue of their razor-thin win over the Atlanta Falcons, are the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Panthers were the Seahawks’ opponent in the 2006 NFC Championship Game in Seattle that sent the Seahawks to Detroit for Super Bowl XL.
Carolina was a wild-card team that season and will be at home until the NFC title game this time around. Philadelphia grabbed the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 New Orleans, while Green Bay parlayed a last-minute drive for the No. 4 seed and will host San Francisco.
But just like 2005, Seattle won’t leave home for the playoffs — except to travel to New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII in February, if it wins the NFC championship.
“It is incredible, because of the work we’ve done since we lost to Atlanta,” Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate, who caught a career-high eight passes for 129 yards and one touchdown.
“We are on point, physically and mentally, but we know we still have work to do. We’re excited. It is a nice reward to have home-field advantage in the postseason.”
Sunday’s game against St. Louis was a two-man affair — running back Marshawn Lynch and Tate — on offense and a blistering team-wide effort on defense.
Add in 19 penalties for the game — 12 of which were the Rams — and a liberal dose of personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conducts and “verbal abuse of officals,” and you have a regular-season finalé that stood out in a crowded Week 17 slate of dramatic games.
The defense made itself known early when Malcolm Smith hauled in a tipped Kellen Clemens pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown less than 5 minutes into the game.
The offense, which needed a yeoman’s effort by Lynch on the ground, settled for field goals — 28-yard and 35-yard conversions by kicker Steven Hauschka — for a 13-0 halftime lead.
It isn’t like Seattle was threatened by St. Louis. The Rams had just 54 yards of offense in the first half and only one play in Seahawk territory.
The third quarter was where the memorable — or infamous — penalty flag storm took hold of the game. The biggest downpour of flags came during Seattle’s first touchdown drive of the game.
Lynch powered up five runs for 20 yards and one catch from Russell Wilson for four more before he was pushed out-of-bounds by the helmet-less Alec Ogletree at the Rams’ 23-yard line. Ogletree hit Lynch in the face mask at the end of the run, drawing a 12-yard penalty flag to the 11-yard line.
On the next play, Robert Turbin’s no-gain run ignited a flurry of flags — an unsportsmanlike penalties on Ogletree and Kendall Langford and a disqualification for Langford when his arm accidentally hit an official’s hat off while arguing the penalty call.
In the melee, Langford was thrown out of the game and was flagged for another unsportsmanlike penalty when he spiked his helmet in the direction of head referee Jeff Triplette and his crew.
Two plays later, Lynch ran in from 2 yards out for a 20-3 lead.
The rest of the game was chippy and aggressive, to say the least. One Rams player was flagged for “verbal abuse of an official,” by Triplette, who was none too pleased with the teams’ antics.
“The whole focus is on our team, for your brothers who you are playing for,” Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said. “It doesn’t matter what the other team does. All you are playing for is for the W, for your brothers.”
Wilson and Tate got their touchdown early in the fourth quarter, a brilliant 47-yard touchdown pass play where Tate adjusted his route to catch and run for the score.
St. Louis and Clemens got their ceremonial touchdown with 4 1/2 minutes left, a 2-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook for the final margin.
In the end, the game showcased the defense’s dominance that has been on display all season. The Rams were held to just 12 yards rushing, which tied a Seattle franchise record, and had minus-2 yards rushing in the first half — a franchise record.
“We haven’t done anything yet, in our opinion,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Our goal every year is to win the NFC West, and that’s our mindset, and so once we accomplish that we can check that off the list. But we still have a lot more to do.”
And, you don’t need a mathematics degree to know the NFC’s five other playoff teams will have to beat Seattle in CenturyLink Field to get to the Super Bowl.
Just like the Seahawks and their fans wanted it.
Rob Burns: (360) 537-3926, firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @RobRVR.