Rams Sweep Seattle, Move to 4-1 in NFC West

Posted Dec 27, 2015

St. Louis led from start-to-finish in Sunday's 23-17 victory over the playoff-bound Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

SEATTLE -- Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the Seahawks had been one of the hottest teams in football, having won five straight games and seven of their last eight. Quarterback Russell Wilson was coming off one of the best five-game stretches ever for a quarterback with 19 touchdowns to zero interceptions. And the Rams hadn’t won in Seattle since January 2005, when Torry Holt and Kevin Curtis each had over 100 yards receiving in a Wildcard round playoff victory.

And yet none of that mattered on a cold and rainy afternoon at CenturyLink Field, as the Rams beat the Seahawks 23-17 to improve to 4-1 in the NFC West.

“There hasn’t been a win like this one, man. There hasn’t,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “This one right here might be one of my favorite wins as a Ram.”

St. Louis held Seattle to a season-low 313 offensive yards and forced three turnovers, maintaining control of the game throughout.

The Rams did not end up with any turnovers of their own, and converted 42 percent of their third-down opportunities. Head coach Jeff Fisher had praise for both quarterback Case Keenum and the offensive line for the way the unit not only protected -- allowing zero sacks -- but also paved the way for Todd Gurley and the run game to be effective.

“Case made some good decisions,” Fisher said. “I thought the offensive line played well against that front. That front is really good. Fortunately, we were able to just keep the run game going throughout the game, and we got creases, and Todd made some plays.”

The Rams took an early lead on a 42-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein on their second drive in the first quarter, and then got right back on the board with a defensive score.

On 3rd-and-1 from midfield, fullback Will Tukuafu took a handoff up the middle and got hit hard by safety Mark Barron, who jarred the ball out. Linebacker Akeem Ayers picked up the fumble on the ground, but wasn’t touched. The linebacker popped upright and no one was able to stop him as he raced to the house.

“It was a great hit by Mark Barron,” Ayers said. “I was then able to come in and the ball came right to me, so I was able to scoop it, make a few guys miss, have some good blocks down the field, and I was able to get into the end zone.”

The scoop and score put the Rams up 10-0, which helped set the tone for the rest of the contest.

“It was the difference in the game,” defensive end Chris Long said of Ayers’ touchdown. “Mathematically, it was the difference in the game -- it ended up being a six-point game. And that was huge. It’s just opportunistic. That’s how we played defense today.”

In the second quarter, the defense recorded another turnover when Trumaine Johnson made his seventh interception of the season. On 3rd-and-19, Wilson fired off a deep pass down the right sideline intended for Tyler Lockett. But Johnson and safety Cody Davis were both there to defend the 50-50 opportunity, with the cornerback high pointing the ball and coming down with it on the St. Louis 11.

With the pick, Johnson not only broke Wilson’s streak, but extended his own of recording an interception in four consecutive games. He’s up to seven picks on the season and 15 for his career, which leads all members of the 2012 draft class.

“He’s getting his hands on the ball and he’s making plays,” Fisher said. “In addition to the interceptions, he’s breaking up a lot of passes, which is good. So he’s feeling good. And I think you could also agree that he’s tackling very well. He’s bringing a lot of contact to ball carriers, receivers, and tight ends.”

While the Rams could not capitalize on that turnover, they did take advantage of strong field position later in the period. Ayers and defensive end William Hayes split a third-down sack for a 13-yard loss, forcing Seattle to punt out of its own end zone. Hayes finished with a total of 3.0 sacks -- a product of two solo sacks and two half-sacks. The veteran D-lineman also had a team-leading nine tackles, four tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits per the press box statistics.

For much of the season, tackle Aaron Donald has been the Rams’ most effective defensive lineman, and Hayes said the whole team was motivated to give him some relief.

“AD’s been carrying the team the whole year. So I just wanted to put a little bit on [my] shoulders to take a little pressure off him,” Hayes said. “He’s basically been carrying our D-line since Rob [Quinn’s] been out. So, just kind of want to help do my part today.”

But that half-sack in particular was especially productive, as Tavon Austin then returned the ensuing punt 21 yards to the home team’s 28-yard line.

The visitors wasted no time in taking a shot to get back on the board, as quarterback Case Keenum fired a deep ball to Kenny Britt down the right sideline. The wide receiver beat cornerback Richard Sherman off the line and dove to make the catch in the end zone. Though St. Louis missed the extra point, the visitors still extended their lead to 16-0.

“It was actually a double move at the line of scrimmage, to tell you the truth,” Britt said. “Case did a great job of just putting the ball out there.”

It was Britt’s second touchdown catch of at least 25 yards in the last two weeks, displaying the chemistry and timing between he and Keenum.

“We’ve been doing an excellent job on the practice field taking time before practice and after practice to make sure we’re on the same page,” Britt said.

A field goal late in the second quarter got the Seahawks on the board, and then the home team scored to open the second half. Though St. Louis had Seattle in a pair of 3rd-and-long situations, the defense couldn’t get off the field. Eventually, Wilson hit wide receiver Doug Baldwin in the end zone with a 25-yard pass for a touchdown to cap the 11-play drive, cutting the Rams’ lead to 16-10.

In the fourth quarter, the Rams moved down the field with a few fortunate bounces and heady play by their center. On 3rd-and-1 from the Seattle 40, running back Benny Cunningham took a handoff up the middle, but fumbled as he made his way through the first wave of defenders. The ball ended up at the Seattle 35-yard line, where Tim Barnes fell on the ball for a first down. There was some initial confusion as to whom had made the recovery, but Seattle was already out of challenges and thus the play was not reviewed.

“You hit the bottom of the pile and you’re just trying to do whatever you can to get the ball,” Barnes said. “And luckily, I had just enough left in me to keep a hold of it and the refs saw it well enough to know I had the ball.”

A play later, running back Todd Gurley broke through for a 20-yard gain, but toward the end of his run he fumbled while hurdling a defender. And once again, Barnes was down the field to fall on the football, this time making the recovery on the Seattle two-yard line.

“On the goal line, I was just trying to follow the play and I happened to be right behind him. It was a good clean recovery,” Barnes said.

Those two fumble recoveries made a lasting impression.

“What can you say about Tim Barnes? Great effort, great effort,” Fisher said. “You don’t want to see balls on the ground, but we got some good bounces, and Tim made some big plays.”

“Tim was huge,” Long said. “Tim was like the MVP.”

On 3rd-and-goal, Gurley finished the drive with his 10th rushing touchdown of the season, giving St. Louis a 23-10 advantage.

The touchdown run came on a situation where just about everyone in the stadium may have figured Gurley would receive the handoff. But he was able to get into the end zone anyway thanks to a solid push up front.

“It means a lot. Everybody knows what we’re going to do, but we just go out there and execute anyway,” Gurley said.

Just when it looked like Seattle may score again, the Rams forced another turnover to halt the opportunity. Wilson scrambled for a 20-yard gain in the red zone, but defensive end Eugene Sims caught up to him and jarred the ball loose with a big hit. Ayers was right there to pick up his second fumble recovery of the day, giving the offense the ball at the St. Louis eight-yard line.

Seattle forced St. Louis to go three-and-out, but had no timeouts and only 1:07 on the clock when they regained possession. Before the final whistle blew, Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for an 18-yard touchdown. But, the onside kick went out of bounds, and Keenum took a knee to secure the road win.

With the victory, the Rams have now won three in a row and improve their record to 7-8. They’ll finish the 2015 season on Sunday against the 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We treated this like a playoff game. We’ll treat next week at San Fran the same way,” Laurinaitis said. “Our goal, like I said three weeks ago, was to go 4-0 in the last four. We’re 3-0 right now and hope we can keep it going.”