The NFC playoffs will run through the Pacific Northwest for a second consecutive season.
The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks used their patented defense, behind their rowdy crowd, to stifle the St. Louis Rams in a 20-6 win and wrap up the NFC West division in the process.
The Seahawks (12-4), who ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak, clinched a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs by winning their seventh NFC West title in team history.
Seattle has taken nine of its last 10 games overall since a loss at St. Louis (6-10) in Week 7, a game that the Rams returned a punt for a touchdown and also converted a gutsy fourth-down play in the closing minutes with punter Johnny Hekker.
“We surely witnessed how difficult the NFC West is the last month and a half,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “It just shows you how difficult it is. It was a very tough game today. They played great on defense.”
Russell Wilson threw for 239 yards with an interception and Marshawn Lynch rushed for a touchdown in the win.
Rams quarterback Shaun Hill committed a costly interception on the first play of the fourth quarter in Seattle territory.
On 2nd-and-19 from the 34, Hill tossed the ball right into the arms of defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Kevin Norwood then picked up a first down five plays later on a 31-yard catch to the St. Louis 9. That set up Lynch’s TD run that gave the hosts their first lead of the game, 13-6 with 12:07 left.
Seattle’s defense really put the pressure on with another interception on St. Louis’ next series. Close to midfield, Hill threw a short pass to Lance Kendricks, who had the ball knocked free into the air by Bobby Wagner, and Bruce Irvin picked it off and returned it 49 yards for a score.
“It was really exciting to see the big plays on defense today,” Carroll added.
Benjamin Cunningham looked to cut the deficit to a one-score game, but Earl Thomas jarred the ball loose and out of the end zone as Cunningham reached for the goal line, giving Seattle the ball back with just under six minutes to play.
“We gave it our best shot, the problem is we just didn’t finish,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “We had some really good things happen out there today, we just couldn’t finish it.”
It was St. Louis’ defense that impressed in the first half. After suffering two straight losses entering the game on the heels of consecutive shutouts, the Rams defensive unit got back to work in this one.
Greg Zuerlein provided all the scoring with a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 52-yard boot in the second to give the Rams a 6-0 lead at the break.
Seattle was driving after Zuerlein’s initial field goal, but Luke Willson was a yard short of a first down on 4th-and-5 from the St. Louis 35. Then a Lynch fumble set up Zuerlein’s second kick.
Late in the half, Wilson attempted to orchestrate a late scoring drive. However, Pro Bowl rookie Aaron Donald picked up a big sack near midfield when the Seahawks were in range for a long field goal.
Seattle marched right down the field out of the locker room and Steven Hauschka, coming off the first 0-for-3 kicking day of his career last week against Arizona, knocked down a 42-yarder to cut the deficit in half.
Hauschka kicked a 45-yard field goal on the Seahawks’ ensuing possession to tie the game.