What we learned: Seahawks clinch NFC West title

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The Seattle Seahawks clinched the NFC West title for the third time in four years, manhandling the woebegone Los Angeles Rams in a 24-3 victory. Here’s what we learned on Thursday Night Football:

1. The Rams tend to drag the Seahawks down into the muck and mire, forcing the NFC superpower to share their ugly brand of football. That was the case for the majority of a sloppy first half, with Russell Wilson‘s recent accuracy issues carrying over. Wilson found a modicum of rhythm in the second half, as Doug Baldwin juked Troy Hill on a 1-yard score and Tyler Lockett took the top off of the Los Angeles defense for a 57-yard touchdown.


2. Although Wilson matched his passing touchdown output from the past four Rams matchups combined, Seahawks fans shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this offense is clicking. Thomas Rawls was held under 50 yards on 21 carries and Wilson led just two scoring drives over five plays. The bright spot was Lockett, who recorded a career-high 130 yards on seven receptions after displacing Jermaine Kearse in the starting lineup. After battling through an MCL sprain in the first half of the season, Lockett finally started flashing his rookie-year explosiveness two weeks ago versus the Panthers.

3. How can the Rams feel confident in their evaluation of Jared Goff‘s progress over a seven-game stretch to close out the season? His offensive line misses too many blocks, Todd Gurley misses too many open creases at the line of scrimmage, the receiving corps misses too many easy catches and the greenhorn quarterback himself misses too many throws. One first-quarter possession perfectly encapsulated Los Angeles’ 2016 offensive woes. Rookie wideout Michael Thomas got several steps on safety Steven Terrell only to botch a 50-yard bomb on the doorstep of the end zone. Goff proceeded to march the offense down the field, finally mixing tempo along the way. When Brian Quick broke free in the end zone with no defender in sight, Goff flat-out flubbed the third-down throw. A hesitant Gurley failed to make linebacker Bobby Wagner miss on fourth-and-1, halting the once-promising drive six yards shy of pay dirt.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Rams had managed a mere 93 yards (including consecutive plays that netted a combined 46 yards) and five possessions of one yard or less. How inept is Goff’s offense? Greg Zuerlein‘s 36-yard field goal late in the second quarter is responsible for the Rams‘ lone first-half score in December.

4. This game featured a litany of strange twists and turns, starting with coach Pete Carroll challenging the line-to-gain spot three times in the first half. The truly bizarre events transpired in the final quarter, with Pro Bowl defensive lineman Michael Bennett taking center stage during a two-play sequence. After drawing a flag for excessive hip-thrusting on a sack celebration, Bennett hip-tossed tight end Tyler Higbee like a rag doll, only to knock himself out of the game with a neck injury while clotheslining Gurley for a vicious tackle.


Later in the same drive, Goff was forced to the locker room for concussion tests after Richard Sherman body-rocked him at the end of a 15-yard scramble. Up 21 points with five minutes remaining on the ensuing possession, Seahawks punter Jon Ryan scampered untouched for a bobbling 26-yard gain only to suffer his own head injury once the Rams finally caught up to him. On the very next play, Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald was ejected, his punishment for picking up the penalty flag and tossing it back to the official. Goff and Ryan are both in the NFL’s concussion protocol entering Week 16.

5. Sherman’s explanation for his shoulder-to-shoulder blow to Goff: “There was a little disrespect in his running style. He was acting like he was getting a freebie to end zone.”

6. If Thursday’s game is any indication, Rams interim head coach John Fassel’s style will more closely resemble the riverboat gambling aggressiveness of Ron Rivera or Jack Del Rio as opposed to former coach Jeff Fisher’s insistence on 20th century football game management. Fassel told NBC’s Cris Collinsworth that he will definitely risk short-yardage situations at the goal line and inside the 50-yard line. He promptly eschewed a field goal to attempt a Gurley run in the red zone and had punter Johnny Hekker throw a pass on fourth down in his own territory. If the offense can’t provide any semblance of excitement, at least Fassel will keep things interesting in the final two games of a lost season.



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