After failing on two previous occasions, the Seattle Seahawks finally ensured the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through the Pacific Northwest.
Malcolm Smith returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown, Marshawn Lynch added a 2-yard scoring run and the Seahawks clinched the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
Seattle (13-3) matched the franchise record for wins in a season and finally wrapped up the No. 1 seed after losses to San Francisco and last week to Arizona, which snapped a 14-game home winning streak.
Russell Wilson finished 15 of 23 for 172 yards. Seattle capped the victory with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Golden Tate early in the fourth quarter that lacked the unsportsmanlike wave that got Tate flagged on a similar TD reception in St. Louis earlier this season.
Tate finished with eight catches for 129 yards, both career highs in his final regular-season game before he becomes a free agent.
With home-field advantage wrapped up, there might be a few postseason games still to come for Tate and the Seahawks.
The only other time Seattle had home-field advantage came in 2005, the only time the Seahawks have reached the Super Bowl. They’ll get a week of rest before hosting in the divisional round, and they might need the time off after a pair of key injuries Sunday.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane left in the second half with a hip injury, but more costly could be a lower left leg injury sustained by backup tight end Luke Willson early in the fourth quarter. Willson was taken off the field on a cart with an air cast on his leg.
But the injuries didn’t mute the celebration after the favorite in the NFC most of the season finally clinched everything it had sought. Smith got Seattle started with his interception return for a touchdown early in the first quarter a week after he was tackled at the 3-yard line trying to score on an interception return.
Lynch finished with 97 yards on 23 carries, his best game since running for a season-best 145 yards against Atlanta in Week 10. Seattle continued to struggle on third down, going 4 of 13, but a lack of discipline from the Rams helped out the Seahawks.
The Rams (7-9) were penalized 12 times for 87 yards and lost their composure on defense late in the third quarter. St. Louis was flagged for four personal foul penalties in the span of two plays — two on Alec Ogletree and two on Kendall Langford. The penalty against Langford was for making contact with an official, which on replay appeared inadvertent. Langford was ejected and became incensed, slamming his helmet to the turf as he left the field.
Two plays later, Lynch walked in from the 2 and Seattle led 20-3.
St. Louis was called for two more personal fouls on the ensuing kickoff. The 12 penalties were a season high for the Rams.