Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll admitted prior to Sunday's game that the latest matchup with the St. Louis Rams defensive line could be seen as test of how Seattle's offensive line had progressed after surrendering six sacks in a Week One loss.
Consider it a test failed.
The Rams beat the Seahawks at their own game Sunday, controlling the line of scrimmage, winning the turnover battle and pummeling Russell Wilson to push Seattle - at least for now - down a notch in the NFC playoff seedings.
From the outset the Seahawks looked like a team which had already clinched the playoffs, failing to match the Rams' intensity and physicality - this despite St. Louis missing Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn (among several others) and starting former undrafted free agent Case Keenum at quarterback. The Seahawks never led in this game - the first time that's happened since Wilson was drafted back in 2012.
While Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald dominated the pre-game discussion, left defensive end William Hayes had the best day of his eight-year career, whipping Seattle right tackle Garry Gilliam for nine tackles, including four for loss and three sacks. Center Patrick Lewis endured the worst game of his NFL career, as well, repeatedly getting beaten off the snap by Donald (among others) and horribly misfiring on two snaps.
With Gilliam's primary backup - Alvin Bailey - already starting in place of the injured Russell Okung at left tackle and tight end Luke Willson suffering a concussion in the second quarter, the Seahawks were essentially powerless to stop the Rams' onslaught.
Turning to the running game offered little production with St. Louis limiting Seattle to just 60 rushing yards on 22 carries - a number greatly enhanced by Wilson's 39 yards. The trio of Christine Michael (six yards on six carries), Bryce Brown (nine yards on seven carries) and Fred Jackson (11 yards on two carries) was held to a total of 26 yards on 15 total carries, an average of just 1.73 yards per attempt.
Meanwhile, Seattle's normally active defense struggled with the power running of Pro Bowler and Rookie of the Year favorite Todd Gurley, who drove through the Seahawks and a constant rain for 85 yards, including a touchdown.
The Rams were the recipients of a few questionable calls from the referees and after the game awarded center Tim Barnes a game ball for his recovering two fumbles.
Ultimately, however, this was a loss based more on Seattle's failure to execute with even its best players struggling in key moments.
Wilson's red-hot streak of 19 touchdowns without an interception ended in the second quarter when he threw late over the middle to Tyler Lockett and was picked off by Trumaine Johnson. Wilson also lost a fourth quarter fumble.
The most costly turnover for the Seahawks, however, was a fumble by fullback Will Tukuafu on Seattle's second drive of the game. The ball appeared to be punched free by Donald. Rams' outside linebacker Akeem Ayers scooped up the ball, eluded Wilson, Lewis and Justin Britt (among others) to scamper 50 yards to give St. Louis a 10-0 lead which felt like much more.
With Seattle unable to get anything going on offense, the lead felt insurmountable shortly thereafter with Keenum feathering a beautiful pass up the right sideline to Kenny Britt for a 28-yard touchdown. The score went over Seattle's All-Pro Richard Sherman, silencing a shocked crowd at CenturyLink.
Taking some of the more physical hits he's absorbed all year long, Wilson gamely battled back, hitting Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse in the second half to make things more interesting. The touchdown reception was Baldwin's 14th on the year, giving him sole possession of the franchise record for the most touchdown receptions in a season.
If Baldwin was limited by the hamstring pull which forced him to miss two days of practice this week he certainly didn't look it against the Rams, continuing his torrid winter with a game-high eight grabs for 118 yards and the score.
With the loss, the Seahawks fall to 9-6 on the season and currently hold the sixth and final seed in the NFC playoff bracket. Beating the Arizona Cardinals in the regular season finale would mean that the Seahawks would travel to face either the Washington Redskins or Minnesota Vikings in the wildcard round. Losing would put the Green Bay Packers in the mix as Seattle's opponent in the opening round of the playoffs, as well.null