It looked like a championship scene, and sounded like a championship scene. Goodness knows it felt like a championship scene.
The Seahawks won a division title Sunday night with a 16-6 thumping of the St. Louis Rams, and if you had dropped by at Qwest Field without any knowledge of the NFC West standings, you’d have found it impossible to distinguish the victors from any other playoff representative in any other year.
As the clock wound down, the Seahawks exchanged hugs and prolonged embraces. They wore NFC West championship caps. There was a fireworks blast – ta-dum! – and the video board filled fans in on the next chapter of a Hawks season that found them salvaging two months of uninspired football in one enchanted evening:
“Playoff tickets on sale now.”
The same promise couldn’t be made Sunday night in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers learned they were eliminated from playoff contention despite a 10-6 record. Nor could the promise be made in New York, where the 10-6 Giants also will be staying home.
As for the 7-9 Seahawks, they were not in a disposition to agonize about becoming the first team in NFL history to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike season.
The record is what it isn’t.
“Listen, there’s no apologies for making it in the playoffs,” said Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy. “The easiest way to get in the playoffs is to win your division. Period, point blank. And we did that.”
Said coach Pete Carroll: “I hear this has never happened before. I think that’s kind of cool. Wasn’t it TCU that won for all the little guys? That was the talk at their bowl game the other day.
“For all those teams that have a losing record and don’t think they can be champions, it can get done.”
Scoff if you must at the notion of a losing NFL team remaining Super Bowl eligible in January, but give Carroll’s team this much: It can’t be accused of backing into its postseason berth.
The Seahawks clinched the division by turning in their most comprehensive effort in 16 games. The offense, behind backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, put together an 87-yard touchdown drive on its first possession, added some insurance with three second-half field goals, and basically was more than all right because it did nothing wrong.
The defense contained running back Stephen Jackson – the Battering Ram was held to 45 yards on 11 carries – and didn’t allow quarterback Sam Bradford, the presumptive Offensive Rookie of the Year, a completion over 20 yards. Bradford stands 6-foot-4, and yet he was consistently unable to deliver throws that weren’t deflected by Seattle’s defensive line.
And the special teams? Put it this way: By the third quarter, when Earl Thomas turned St. Louis kick returner Danny Amendola into a two-legged twirl-a-whirl capsule, it was clear the Seahawks owned every emotional edge.
“The thing that I am so proud of this team is they hung together through a lot of messy games during the course of the season when we weren’t playing good football,” said Carroll, “and then it really came together on this championship night.”
The Hawks will begin the wild-card round depicted as the most flawed playoff team of the Super Bowl era: Their 2010 opponents outscored them by 97 points, outgained them in first downs (313-260), in rushing yards (1,903-1,424), in passing yards (3,994-3,341).
After the Seahawks learned they would face defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans at Qwest Field on Saturday afternoon, their odds of winning the Super Bowl were put at 125-1.
Of the 11 other teams in the playoff derby, none is more than a 25-1 longshot.
But they’re in the derby, and if the premise of a losing team owning home-field advantage for the first round motivates the league to tweak its playoff format, so be it. No tweaks are going to be made before the Saints come marching in.
“If you’ve ever followed my track record and thought about the systems I’ve played in, whether it’s college and the BCS or here in the NFL, this is the system, and I don’t give a crap,” said Carroll. “We just played it out and this is what happened. I’m sure some other teams are disappointed in that. There’s some teams that are disappointed in the BCS system as well.
“You just play it out the best you can.”
The Seahawks will begin playing it out Saturday. In the meantime, in the time-honored tradition of champions of any record, they’ve got the right to gloat.
“We’re going to the playoffs,” said running back Marshawn Lynch,. “Did I mention that to you already?” We just stuck it out … and it paid off for us. We’re going to the playoffs.
“I just thought I might say that again.”
And though they are going to the playoffs as 125-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl, at least they’ve got odds, which is more than the Buccaneers, or the Giants, or 18 other teams have.