Of course it had to be Jacob Hollister.
A year after coming a half yard shy of a division-winning touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Hollister clinched the 2020 NFC West crown and a 20-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon. It capped Seattle's best offensive drive of the day that saw a few key third down conversions and the definitive final blow to the division race.
It's Seattle's first division crown since the 2016 season. The Seahawks had been Wild Card entrants into the postseason each of the last two years. They're now 11-4 on the season. It's just the seventh time in franchise history the team has had at least 11 wins, five of which have come under head coach Pete Carroll.
A stellar defensive outing from the Seahawks combined with an adequate day from the offense was enough to beat the Los Angeles Rams for just the second time in their last seven tries. The performance emphatically signaled how far the defense has come since its first half of the season disarray.
The victory assures the Seahawks will be hosting a playoff game in two weeks. It's quite likely that it will be a rematch against the Rams with a few other possibilities still existing as well. The way Seattle played against the Rams on Sunday should give them confidence for such a rematch if it indeed comes to pass two weeks from now.
Here are the takeaways from Sunday's win over the Rams:
-- Division titles shouldn't be taken for granted. Seahawks accomplish a big goal.
In their 45-year history, the Seahawks have won their division just 11 times. They won it just twice in the first 28 years of their existence. After winning the AFC West in 1988, the Seahawks had just one winning season in the next 10 years.
There things aren't easy. Just ask the Buffalo Bills. They're enjoying their first division title in 25 years after a stretch of four straight Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990's.
The Seahawks have had the best run of success in franchise history under Pete Carroll. They've won the NFC West five times in Carroll's 11 seasons as head coach. They've made the postseason now in nine of 11 seasons.
"This was a great Seahawks day," Carroll said. "I'm really proud of what we've accomplished just by getting to this division championship right now. Just through all of the challenges that we face and all of the things on the outside that we're all dealing with and all of that, for this group to just continue to hold focus and really find their best through the process, I'm really fired up about it and proud of it."
Carroll has always said that winning the division is the first goal for his teams each season. A Super Bowl is obviously the biggest goal, but that goal becomes easier by winning your division. It gives you a home playoff game and maybe as much as a first-round bye. The Seahawks have an outside chance at the No. 1 seed but they already know that they'll be playing at home in two weekends from now.
The New England Patriots have ruined the paradigm for everyone. Winning a division for seemingly 20 straight years is not normal. It's not even reasonable. It's an absolute testament to their brilliance that they've been able to accomplish it. But the Seahawks play in a tough division that is a slugfest just about every season. They've had late season missteps come back to bite them in recent years. The loss to the New York Giants could have served as just such a loss. Instead, they bounced back with three straight wins to seal the division and slay a personal demon in the process with the Rams.
-- Defense passes another big test with flying colors.
At midseason, the Seahawks defense looked to be one of the worst units statistically in league history. They were on pace to allow the most passing yards ever in a single year by nearly 1,000 yards. They had just allowed 44 points in a loss to the Buffalo Bills as teams continued to gash the unit on a weekly basis.
Since then, absolutely everything has changed.
Over the past seven games, the Seahawks have the best scoring defense in the NFL at just 15.0 points per game. They are tied for the most sacks over that span with 24. They rank third in total defense and sixth in passing defense.
We've used this before to contrast the difference, but this is where the unit was after the Buffalo loss.
The 44 points allowed to the Bills on Sunday is the most ever in the Pete Carroll era and the most overall since a 48-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2009. The Seahawks are allowing 362.1 passing yards per game. The 2,897 yards allowed through eight games is more than 300 yards worse than the closest prior to this season as the 2002 Kansas City Chiefs had allowed 2,589 yards through this point in the season.
So exactly halfway through the season, double the total and you get 5,794 passing yards on pace for the full year. How bad is that? No defense in NFL history has ever allowed more than 5,000 passing yards in a year. The 2011 Green Bay Packers allowed 4,796 yards. The Seahawks are pace to be nearly 1,000 yards worse than that mark.
"There was times during the season here when everybody had enough statistics to go ahead and blow us out like we weren't worth anything on defense," Carroll said. This defense is good, and they've shown it, and they've declared it and this is the kind of defense that we played in years past when we were really a good team down the end of the stretch. To show like that again week after week after week and to show it again in the most difficult challenge that we had and not give up a touchdown all day long, that's big time. And it was really consistent, the mentality was great. It didn't matter who was making plays it was just guys playing football together in really connected way that really showed up."
The points allowed in the seven games since the Buffalo loss: 23, 21, 17, 17, 3, 15, 9.
"We figured it out and guys are just being accountable," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We're communicating like no other. just to hear guys' voices each and every play is just truly special. Defense wins championships. We know that going down the stretch it's gonna be some tough, tough battles. Playoff time is around the corner and defense always wins championships."
Some of the opponents Seattle has faced during that stretch aren't exactly prolific with their offensive attacks. In fact, the previous three opponents -- the New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Football Team -- all rank in the bottom four of the league in total offense. So Sunday's game against the eighth-ranked Rams was a great chance to see what the unit is truly capable of.
They passed with flying colors.
"This defense is playing lights out," safety Jamal Adams said. "And to me, we're the best defense in the league and you can quote that. You can do what you want to do with it. But at the end of the day I believe in these guys. I believe in this coaching staff and what we bring to the table, day in and day out. I know how hard we work. So we're just going to continue to get better because we haven't even played our best football yet and that's the scary part."
Additionally, they came up with a brilliant goal line stand that involved Jamal Adams running down Darrell Henderson from behind to save a touchdown, a stuffed quarterback sneak and multiple stops of Malcolm Brown runs to keep the Rams out of the end zone.
"There was never a more heroic opportunity than down there on the goal line," Carroll said. "You know, it's on the 2, first down, and the guys did not let it happen. And you've seen these are the heart of our players in earlier times this season in moments come through and they did it again. The goal line stand was a famous one. One I'll never forget. Just because it was so hard. The ball was on the one inch line or whatever. And they did not let that happen."
-- David Moore catch a massive turning point.
Seattle's offense wasn't doing much of anything consistently but a shot play to David Moore changed the arc of the game in several ways.
Wilson uncorked a deep throw up the right side to a well-covered Moore for a big 45-yard gain that turbocharged the team's first touchdown drive of the game. The Seahawks would score four plays later on a 4-yard Wilson scramble that gave Seattle a 13-6 advantage in the third quarter.
"The huge play to David Moore today kind of just turned things," Carroll said. "Russ got out, hit him. Russ got out again, I think hit Carlos on first down conversion and then Russ runs one in for that touchdown. That was really, really big, the whole sequence was."
The play to Moore was crucial for several reasons. It's one of the few big plays the Seahawks have managed to hit in recent weeks and sparked an important touchdown drive.
The play also shouldn't have stood.
Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi held Rams pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo badly coming off the edge. Wilson evaded pressure to his right as Okoronkwo was held trying to escape the clutches of Ogbuehi. It was absolutely a penalty and it wasn't called.
Wilson then turned down a chance to run for a conversion on the third-and-8 and let it fly down the sideline to Moore. If Moore had been unable to make his sensational catch, it would have been another punt on a drive that couldn't get out of their own half of the field.
"I think David Moore's play was critical," Wilson said. "To be able to get outside the pocket there, extend the play and give him a chance to make a big time catch. There's no fear in that throw. You just believe in it, you shoot it and you let it ride and he made a great catch. Tried to put it where only he could get it and he can catch, man. He's really special, so anytime there's a contested football he's gonna catch it and he did a great job there and so that really gave us the momentum."
The penalty wasn't called, the throw was delivered and the catch was made. It gave the offense the spark it needed to find the end zone for the first in the game.
-- K.J. Wright is having an absolutely brilliant season.
K.J. Wright may not be a Pro Bowler. It may not be his best statistical season ever. But he is playing some terrific football this year.
Wright has been asked to switch positions this season after Bruce Irvin's knee injury in September left them short-handed at strong-side linebacker. While it's not his favorite position to play, Wright has been terrific in the role since making the switch in the team's base defense.
Wright was a big factor in the defensive performance against the Rams. He and rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks were critical in stopping the Rams' boot-action passing attack. Wright did an outstanding job of sinking on receivers attacking the flats as jet motion players while simultaneously pressuring a booting Goff. Brooks also was critical in dropping underneath the deep crossing routes from L.A. wideouts.
But Wright was also pivotal in the running game. He strung out several runs to hold the edge as fellow defenders came in to make a play.
"He's had a great football season," Carroll said. "He could easily be playing in that Pro Bowl or wherever they're going to do with that thing. He's had that kind of the season and we're so grateful that he's had such a great career with us. He's been awesome."
Wright was also pivotal to stopping the fourth-and-goal run by Brown. He blocked tight end Tyler Higbee straight back into the path of the running back to help blow up his path to the end zone.
"I wasn't blitzing. I just knew that it was time to just take my shot. I just had to take my shot," Wright said.
With the drafting of Brooks in the first round this spring, there was some wonder if that was an indictment on Wright's future with the team. Instead, Wright's position switch to SAM has allowed Brooks to get on the field while Wright continues to play at a high level for Seattle. Some of his impact won't show up in the box scores with statistics for Sunday's game, but Wright was a dominant performer against the Rams.
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 27: The Seattle Seahawks defense celebrates a stop on third down against the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter at Lumen Field on December 27, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)