SEATTLE – For the second consecutive time in the NFC West’s most competitive rivalry, the Seattle Seahawks learned Sunday that it’s not how a game starts – it’s how Josh Brown finishes it.
The Seahawks’ messiah-like kicker was at it again Sunday afternoon, finishing off another memorable matchup with a 38-yard field goal in the final seconds to deliver a 24-22 victory and a two-game lead atop the division standings.
“I probably wouldn’t be allowed back in the stadium if I miss that,” Brown said after making his third game-winner of the season, and his second in two meetings with the Rams this year. “It’s one of those things where the fans expect it, the coaches expect it, I expect it of myself.”
For all the Walter Jones blocks, Julian Peterson sacks and Darrell Jackson touchdowns that have defined this season, Brown may well be the Seahawks’ most valuable player because of what he’s done at crunch time. With two game-winners against the Rams, and a third to beat the Detroit Lions, Brown has played a huge role in half of the Seahawks’ six victories this season.
“Josh Brown is a special guy and a special kicker,” cornerback Marcus Trufant said. “He’s been getting it done for us. He’s a key to our success. He’s been playing in a lot of close games and getting it done.”
Brown’s latest game-winner – his fifth since Oct. 2005 – may have been his most important yet. The Seahawks (6-3) now have a two-game lead atop the NFC West, with the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Rams all wrapped up.
“We needed this,” Peterson said. “This gives us a two- or two-and-a-half game cushion. We just have to take this momentum and keep on going.”
Added Jones: “The No. 1 goal is to win the division, and (to do that,) we know we have to beat these guys.”
The day didn’t start the way the Seahawks wanted, as the team learned that starting center Robbie Tobeck would miss the game because of the flu and then gave up a fumble and 89-yard return for a touchdown on its opening possession.
Playing without four offensive starters and three Pro Bowlers – quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander and Tobeck – the Seahawks came back to tie the score and eventually take a 14-13 halftime lead on two Seneca Wallace touchdown passes.
As always seems to be the case in this rivalry, the seesaw battle saw plenty of twists and turns down the stretch. The Rams (4-5) took a 16-14 lead with a third-quarter field goal and appeared ready to add to that advantage when they marched deep into Seahawks territory early in the fourth quarter before making a questionable replay challenge to wipe out a field goal.
Rams coach Scott Linehan threw the challenge flag just as his team snapped the ball and kicked a 35-yard field goal. Instead of getting the three points, Linehan got the call overturned but then his team failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 12-yard line.
That play loomed large in the end, as the Rams lost by two points.
“The idea was that if we had gotten to fourth-and-short, we would consider going for it,” Linehan explained of a third-down pass reception that was originally ruled incomplete. “Because if we score a touchdown on that drive, it makes it a two-score (lead), and it would be a pretty good situation for us.
“It didn’t work out for us because we didn’t convert. We certainly could have used the points at the end of the game.”
Seattle regained the lead midway through the fourth quarter when Nate Burleson gave Seattle its first punt return for a touchdown in three years, rambling 90 yards for a score and a 21-16 lead.
The Rams responded on their next possession. Running back Steven Jackson ran over a trio of Seahawks defenders at the goal line to finish off an 11-play, 69-yard drive and give St. Louis a 22-21 lead. Rams center Richie Incognito was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the play, and following a failed two-point conversion, St. Louis had to kick off from its own 15-yard line.
Seahawks return man Josh Scobey returned that kickoff to the St. Louis 49, and seven plays later, the Seahawks had moved 29 yards to the 20.
Brown calmly stepped up under the steady rain and kicked the game-winner with nine seconds left, without giving much of a reaction afterward.
“I didn’t expect to miss,” Brown said of his unemotional reaction. “I’m not shocked that I made it. You have to go out there expecting to make things.
“It’s definitely not an arrogance thing. We’re doing what we do every day. We prepare like this every day.”
The Rams tried to come up with one of those Cal-Stanford type of finishes on the final kickoff, but in the end Brown appropriately fell on a loose football.
He took the ball with him to the locker room with designs on saving it alongside some of the others he’s kept over the years.
The Seahawks’ kicker is building quite a collection – not to mention a reputation.
“That’s his third game-winner (this year), so he’s been pretty important,” defensive end Grant Wistrom said. “I don’t want to give him too much credit because he thinks he’s pretty good anyway, but I wouldn’t want to have anybody else back there at that point in the football game than Josh Brown.”