Updated at: 12/30/2012 10:37 PM
By TIM BOOTH
(AP) SEATTLE - Even though St. Louis fell short of its goal of finishing with a winning record for the first time in nearly a decade, Jeff Fisher was extremely proud.
Taking the Rams from 2-14 to the verge of a winning season already earned respect. Nearly knocking off the hottest team in the NFC on the road to close the season sent a message for next season.
"The guys are going to get away and get refreshed, recharged and come back with some optimism," Fisher said. "I think those guys, in that room, can stand up and look people in the eye and say, `Hey, the Rams are back.’
"That’s what we wanted to accomplish this year."
Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, and his 1-yard TD run with 1:39 left gave Seattle a 20-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday and an 8-0 home mark for the Seahawks.
St. Louis’ defensive effort was superb. Seattle’s offensive surge of the past three weeks was gone, bogged down by St. Louis’ smart coverage in the secondary and effective pass rush. Seattle became the first team since 1950 to score 150 points in a three week span, yet had just three points at halftime and six midway through the third quarter.
The Rams sacked Wilson six times, including three by Chris Long, but couldn’t do enough offensively to finish with their first winning record since 2003.
"We expected it to be a dog fight, we expected it to be real tight, we expected it to come down to the wire just like it did. And we expected to come out on top and win, we just didn’t do it," Long said. "But they’re a good football team and this is a tough place to play so you can never be, you know, but nobody is shocked in this locker room that this was a tight game. They are just a good football team, a play off football team. They play well at home, but we gave them a good fight."
Seattle (11-5) had hopes of still winning the NFC West entering the day, but needed Arizona to pull off a stunning upset of San Francisco. For a while, it looked plausible with Arizona holding an early 6-0 lead and trailing just 7-6 at halftime. But San Francisco pulled away in the third quarter and with it went Seattle’s hopes of being any more than just the No. 5 seed and a road trip for the first round of the playoffs.
Seattle will travel to the NFC East champion _ either Washington or Dallas _ for the first round of the playoffs next Sunday.
While the Seahawks was already looking ahead to the postseason, they were also appreciative of the test given by the Rams knowing the challenges they’ll face starting next week.
"It definitely gave us an example of what to expect in the playoffs," Seattle defensive end Red Bryant said. "I would have rather had a game like this is the regular season than to get in the playoffs and not be able to respond like we were able to respond today."
St. Louis dominated the first half with its defense. Wilson was regularly under duress and when he did get out of the pocket, there was often a Rams’ defender waiting for him. Wilson was sacked five times in the first half alone and the Rams had a 7-3 lead at the break.
But the Rams didn’t have an answer in the fourth quarter when Wilson led Seattle on its fourth game-winning drive in the final minutes of regulation or overtime. St. Louis had its chance when Marshawn Lynch fumbled at the Seattle 18 with 4:23 left, but was recovered by receiver Golden Tate. Three plays later, Wilson found Tate for 44 yards on third-and-5 to move Seattle into scoring position.
Later in the drive, with the ball at the 1, Seattle tried to get Wilson the rookie TD record, but all his options were covered. So he pulled it down and ran for his fourth rushing touchdown of the season.
Wilson finished 15 of 19 for 250 yards and his 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Robinson in the third quarter pulled him even with Manning for the rookie TD record. He added another 58 yards rushing, while Lynch finished with exactly 100 yards on 18 carries, his 10th game of the season reaching the century mark. Tate had three catches for 105 yards.
St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford tried to put together a final drive, converting one fourth down and getting to the Seattle 29 with 40 seconds left. But on fourth-and-10, Bradford forced his throw and Sherman stepped in front for his eighth interception of the season. Wilson took a knee and Seattle headed for the playoffs winners of five straight and seven of eight the second-half of the season.
Bradford was 25 of 42 for 242 yards and a touchdown pass to Austin Pettis. Greg Zuerlein kicked field goals of 25 and 39 yards. Steven Jackson also went over 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth straight season, becoming just the sixth player in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Jackson, who spoke earlier this week of possibly examining retirement, said he still wants to be in St. Louis and has something left.
"What I said was that I would seek all options and that would be something that is an option for me," Jackson said. "I love the game of football and I feel like I still have a lot left in my tank. Let’s just get the deal done, how about that?"
Notes: Rams finished the year with 52 sacks, tied with the 1979 L.A. Rams for most in franchise history. ... Wilson finished with a franchise-record 100.0 passer rating. ... Seattle went undefeated at home for the third time in franchise history. ... Jackson also had a seven receptions, second most this season.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)