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Playoffs? After win over Rams, Seahawks still in hunt

by: MICHAEL WORKMAN Doug Baldwin of the Seattle Seahawks blocks a punt by the St. Louis Rams' Donnie Jones in the first quarter of Monday night's NFL game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The Seahawks' Michael Robinson returned the ball 17 yards for a touchdown, and Seattle went on to win 30-13.

SEATTLE - Five weeks ago, the playoffs were unthinkable.

Cue Jim Mora, circa 2001: 'What's that? Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs?'

The odds are still against the Seattle Seahawks crashing the party.

But the Northwest's NFL contingent gave itself a chance Monday night by beating the St. Louis Rams 30-13, its fourth victory in the last five games.

A year ago, Seattle made the playoffs with a 7-9 record. That won't happen this year. The Seahawks must finish 9-7 to reach the postseason, and even that might not be good enough.

Seattle (6-7) must win its last three contests - at Chicago on Sunday, at home against San Francisco and at Arizona - and get some help to land one of two wild-card berths in the National Football Conference.

Six teams are vying for the two spots, and four of them - Detroit and Atlanta (both 8-5) and Chicago and either Dallas or the New York Giants (both 7-6) - are ahead of the Seahawks and Arizona (6-7).

It helps that Seattle will faces two of the teams with which it is competing, but Pete Carroll pretends not to care.

'I don't have any attention to that at all,' the second-year Seattle coach said after the triumph over St. Louis. 'The focus is to stay with what we're doing and to bring it to life again next week against Chicago.

'We haven't done nothing yet. We're on track to find ourselves here. Where that leads us at the end of the season - there's a lot going on with other teams - I don't know all the scenarios.'

The only loss in the last five weeks was a 23-17 heartbreaker to Washington in which the Seahawks blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.

'It's a tremendous challenge to maintain a consistency in the league,' Carroll said. 'We've played this way for awhile, (and) I would include the Redskin game.

'Where that leads us at the end, we'll see. Right now, we're feeling good, we're having fun, and these guys are loving playing together. They had a ball tonight. It was great to do that on Monday Night Football. We enjoyed the heck out of it.'

For perspective, understand that two of the wins in the recent streak have been over the Rams, a team that is decimated by injury, 2-11 and going nowhere.

Of course, the Seahawks have had their share of injuries, too. Three O-linemen who began the season as starters have suffered season-ending injuries. They have plugged the holes and persevered.

The defense has been solid all season, in particular since a 34-12 loss to Cincinnati on Oct. 30. It's a young group - the oldest starter is end Chris Clemons, 30 - with playmakers such as Clemons, middle linebacker David Hawthorne, safety Kam Chancellor and ex-Oregon State cornerback Brandon Browner.

The offense is more challenged. Tarvaris Jackson is in the lower echelon of starting NFL quarterbacks, but he was pretty good Monday night, completing 21 of 32 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

Marshawn Lynch has been gathering steam after a slow start. The fifth-year tailback out of California rushed for 115 yards and a TD on 23 carries against the Rams. Over the last six games, he has picked up 706 yards on the ground - most in the NFL over that span. Lynch has 969 yards for the season, closing in on his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2008 with Buffalo.

The Seahawks had 359 yards total offense against the Rams, including 145 rushing.

'That's good stuff for us,' Carroll said. 'I'm pleased about the style of play. You can see what we're trying to get done here. The guys are responding.'

Carroll, in the second year of a five-year, $35-million contract, is trying to win with a balanced offense and an attacking defense. The Seahawks entered the game 27th in the league in total offense (298.5 yards per game), 24th in pass offense (194.4) and 23rd in rush offense (104.1). But the numbers have gradually improved after a 2-6 start.

'I'm really pleased that we're making progress,' Carroll said. 'You can see the philosophy and the approach and the style of play. That's really important to us right now.'

The Seahawks have a little extra zip to their step these days.

'We could have given up a long time ago,' safety Earl Thomas said. 'But we stayed together, and we have a little winning streak right now. Now we got Chicago up, and we'll see what happens when we get there.

'The second half of the season, we've had confidence with the whole team. We go into games, no matter who we play, expecting to win. Winning is starting to be the norm around here.'

That's the attitude you have to have to win.

I don't see the Seahawks beating either Chicago or San Francisco, though. It looks to me like another 7-9 season, and no playoffs this time.

But five weeks ago, I'd have said 5-11 or 4-12.

Now, the unthinkable is at least thinkable. And that's progress.