In accordance with Seattle Seahawks tradition, the home team got an assist Sunday from the 12th man at Qwest Field.
Except this time, the 12th man wore a white jersey, white pants and a helmet depicting the horns of a ram. This time, the 12th man made a difference by being seen, not by being heard.
This time, the 12th man was the St. Louis special teams player who enabled the Rams to swarm field-goal kicker Olindo Mare with an extra body during the final minute of the first half.
Mare’s 49-yard attempt was blocked by the Rams’ C.J. Ah You, and when teammate Quincy Butler gathered the bouncing ball in stride, all that separated him from the end zone was 49 yards of synthetic turf. In the span of a few seconds, a potential 10-0 Seahawks lead had turned into what looked to be a 7-7 tie.
But as the Rams were lining up for the extra point, word reached both benches that a review had been ordered by the official in the upstairs replay booth. The review was to determine whether the Rams had 12 men on the field.
They did, and what ensued during the 49 seconds preceding halftime might be described as The Mother of All Mood Swings. Awarded a first down at the Rams’ 26-yard line after the penalty was assessed, the Seahawks needed only three plays to score their second touchdown.
“It’s 7-0 and we don’t convert, and I’m disappointed,” said receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. “Then they block the field goal and I’m thinking, wow, it’s 7-7.
“Twelve men on the field, that gave us another chance and it’s 14-0. I think from that point forward, it was like the momentum went with us after halftime.”
So comprehensive was the Seahawks’ domination in their 28-0 season-opening victory, it’s easy to forget that there was a moment Sunday when it appeared as though the teams would take a sloppy, lethargically paced 7-7 duel into the third quarter.
But once Seattle pulled ahead 14-0, the game turned from an ugly scrum into the soft-landing debut that had been anticipated for new coach Jim Mora. And for that, Mora owes replay official Jim Lapetina his gratitude: because the field-goal block was made during the final two minutes of the half, Mora was unable to issue a coach’s challenge on the play.
“That was a huge play,” Mora said. “That was a 14-point swing, because we were able to take that ball in and score. You can’t discount how big that play was in the game. It was gigantic.”
“They get a touchdown wiped off the scoreboard, and we get a first down,” said defensive end Patrick Kerney, who wasn’t sure why there was a review after the play until he talked to defensive line coach Dan Quinn.
“Then we looked up at the video board,” continued Kerney. “The line looked awful full for them. Luckily, it was.”
Said Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo: “I’ll take the blame for that. I’m sure guys will be accountable, and tell you it was their fault, but I always put that on me. It’s from the top down. And it’s a shame, because it was a real good play.”
As elation gave way to deflation in the St. Louis defensive huddle, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took an all-business, no-nonsense approach to the task at hand.
“For me, the offense was really focused on what we needed to do to punch it in there,” said Hasselbeck. “I give credit to the coaching staff for having us situationally ready for either fourth-and-one, or for first-and-10.”
It turned out to be first-and-10, which became a second-and-4 after Julius Jones blasted through the right side to the Rams’ 20. Hasselbeck then connected with Houshmandzadeh for a 12-yard gain, and, after a time out stopped the clock with 18 seconds remaining in the half, Hasselbeck found Nate Burleson wide open on the right side of the end zone.
The Hawks would fatten their lead with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns – a textbook-perfect pass, over the middle, to tight end John Carlson, and Jones’ 62-yard dash on a standard off-tackle play – but, really, the game turned when the replay official counted 12 Rams on the field.
Instead of a 7-7 score that would’ve found the crowd fretting through halftime, the Seahawks were off and running at 14-0.
“It’s always tough when you have a 14-point momentum swing,” said Hasselbeck, offering his thoughts on the how replay-booth reversal affected the Rams. “It’s always a kick in the gut a little bit.”
By the way, the identity of the St. Louis player who didn’t belong on the field during the field-goal attempt?
It was the guy who blocked the kick, Ah You.
A most appropriate name for a 12th man in Seattle. Even if he’s from St. Louis.