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Monday, November 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hawks off and running after surviving division dogfight

Seattle Times staff reporter

Coaches know their teams better than anyone, and Mike Holmgren has these Seahawks pegged perfectly.

The Seahawks' remaining games this season will be dogfights. Down to the wire. Close. Battling, scraping, scratching — the very words Holmgren has used in recent weeks to describe the way he figures games will go.

The Seahawks proved they could win one of those games in heart-pumping fashion Sunday, 24-22 over the St. Louis Rams before a record crowd of 68,175 in the rain at Qwest Field.

"Another day at the office," Holmgren said. "My goodness."

Seattle won with Josh Brown's 38-yard field goal with 9 seconds left, a defense that stubbornly kept the Rams out of the end zone enough times to allow the rest of the team to make plays, and a special-teams rarity not seen in Seattle since 2003.

Nate Burleson's 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter — the first such score since Bobby Engram's 83-yard return on Nov. 16, 2003 — set the tone for a wild final 8:13 of the game.

"Oh, that was nice," Holmgren said smiling, "because we were struggling pretty good right there offensively."

The return gave the Seahawks a 21-16 lead.

But the Rams answered with an 11-play, 69-yard scoring drive that ended with a 14-yard TD run by Steven Jackson and a 15-yard personal foul, which would be assessed on the ensuing kickoff, on center Richie Incognito. Following another Incognito penalty, which negated a successful two-point conversion, the Rams led 22-21 after failing on their second two-point attempt with 2:37 remaining.

With St. Louis kicking off from its 15 because of Incognito's first penalty, Seattle's Josh Scobey set the table with a 33-yard return to the Rams' 49-yard line. Then quarterback Seneca Wallace, who had gone from first-half brilliance to second-half ineffectiveness, found his stride again. So did running back Maurice Morris. And the pair of fill-in starters became two of the day's heroes.

Morris gained 5 yards on a run. Then 10. Wallace rolled out and found wide receiver D.J. Hackett for 2 yards. Wallace then made his finest throw of the second half, a rollout toss off his back foot that Darrell Jackson caught between two defenders for 10 yards.

With that, the Seahawks were in field-goal range, and three plays later, Brown lined up with the game on the line. He delivered in that situation for the third time this season and for the second time against the Rams, whom he stunned with a 54-yard walk-off kick at the Edward Jones Dome last month.

"It means I'm earning my money," Brown said. "I'm paid to do a job and regardless of the situation, I have to be ready when the time comes."

The key for Brown has been repetition. The same routine in practice and in games.

"My rookie year, Coach Holmgren was making a speech," Brown said. " 'Josh, if I come to your house at 3 in the morning, I need you to be able to make a 40-yard field goal.' "

It wasn't predawn, but the timing was just right. And the Seahawks' Jimmy Williams made the final tackle after a series of laterals on the ensuing kickoff to seal the victory.

This game was about survival, with Seattle surviving an 89-yard fumble return for a touchdown by the Rams' Victor Adeyanju after a very good game-opening drive. The Seahawks survived five sacks and another drive-killing turnover by Wallace, who had the ball stripped away while trying to avoid the rush at the Rams' 38-yard line.

They survived five St. Louis forays deep into their territory that produced only one touchdown, three field goals and a turnover on downs. They survived a seven-minute deficit in time of possession. And they gave themselves the chance to win despite gaining just 40 yards in the second half.

The Seahawks and Rams are synonymous with tight games. Though Seattle won its fourth straight in the series, seven of the past nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. And this win gave Seattle a major advantage in the race to win the NFC West and earn an automatic playoff berth.

The Seahawks now have the edge with a series sweep of the Rams and a two-game lead in the overall standings (6-3 to 4-5). They also have a better record against division opponents (3-0 to 1-3) and a better record against NFC teams (5-2 to 3-3).

"This is something that's definitely going to catapult you come playoff time," defensive tackle Russell Davis said.

The game had a palpable playoff atmosphere to it.

"Now is not the time to take a deep breath," Holmgren said. "You can't do that. You must keep the hammer down and keep pushing."

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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