SEATTLE — The torch was not passed Sunday afternoon.
It was more like the Los Angeles Rams yanked the torch out of the Seattle Seahawks’ hands, snuffed it out, stomped on it a few times, then tossed it into Puget Sound where it was swallowed by an Orca.
The winds of change were howling Sunday in the wake of the Rams’ 42-7 blowout victory over the Seahawks. For five years Seattle has been the standard by which all other NFC West teams were measured. But the nature of Sunday’s defeat suggests the days of the Seahawks being the division’s top dog by default are numbered.
The crowd of 69,077 at CenturyLink Field was left slack-jawed by a spectacle not seen since Pete Carroll took over as head coach in 2010. The 35-point margin of defeat was the largest of the Carroll era, surpassing the 41-7 loss to the New York Giants the team suffered in Carroll’s inaugural campaign. The scoreboard was every bit indicative of the nature of the contest as the Rams dominated in all phases.
The biggest occasion for the crowd to cheer? When Los Angeles kicker Greg Zuerlein doinked an extra-point attempt off the upright. At halftime, with the score 34-0, the fans rained boos down on the Seahawks as they left the field. No doubt the reaction would have been similar at the end of the game — except that few stuck around as CenturyLink was nearly empty by the time the final second ticked off the clock.
It’s as if the crowd instinctively sensed that the end is near.
“This is the only game you’ve ever seen us play like this,” Carroll said. “I can’t remember, maybe back to year one or something like that. Our expectations were that we were going to be right in the middle of this thing.
“It was evident that we were not right. We were not the way we play. That’s why I’ve got to figure that out.”
That’s assuming this is a problem that can be solved.
The Rams came to Seattle with a team that played with desire and purpose. Los Angeles ran the ball down the Seahawks’ throat, with Todd Gurley going off for 152 yards on 21 carries and scoring three touchdowns. On defense, the Rams smothered everything Seattle tried to do, flying around the field and sacking Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson seven times.
It sure hearkened back to the Marshwan Lynch-era Seahawks circa 2012-14, when Seattle developed its swagger and established itself as the team to beat in the division.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were well aware of what was at stake in Sunday’s game. This was Seattle’s chance to restake its claim as the division’s heavy, and with a victory Seattle would have caught the Rams and moved back into first place in the division by virtue of head-to-head tiebreaker against Los Angeles.
But with so many injuries to defensive stars — Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are done for the year, K.J. Wright sat out Sunday’s game injured, Bobby Wagner played on one hamstring — the Seahawks were unable to rise to the occasion. Now the Seahawkss hopes of a fourth division title in five years are all but dashed, and Seattle is going to need a lot of help just to get a wild-card berth.
“We weren’t right in all phases,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said. “Not taking anything away from the Rams, they’re a phenomenal team, they’ve got a solid record for a reason, they have a great running game, a great zone-run scheme and obviously a very effective and efficient defense. That is a good football team that we played. However, all that being said, we didn’t play our best football. We didn’t put our best foot forward from the jump, so we didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
And how many chances do the Seahawks have left? Seattle’s identity is its defense, but the core players are all in their late 20s or older, which qualifies as long in the tooth by NFL standards, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be more durable in the future. Look across the line of scrimmage and the Rams’ players have far less mileage on their tires. Even the coaches follow the metaphor — no one is claiming Carroll is past it, but he is the NFL’s oldest head coach at 66 while Los Angeles’ Sean McVay is the league’s youngest at 31.
After the game McVay said all the right things about the Seahawks. He disputed the idea that the result represented a changing of the guard in the division, and he praised Seattle for its record of sustained success.
But there was one other common thread from the Rams locker room: no indications the Rams thought beating Seattle was anything special.
“I think that for everyone who probably expected them to win outside of this building, then I’m sure it’s a statement win for them,” Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “I really think for us, we set our goals to win this division and that is what is still ahead of us and what our goal is to go do.”
The Seahawks had no way of slowing the Rams down in the pursuit of their goal Sunday. And it just might be that there’s no way for these Seahawks to get that torch back any time soon.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.