Ricardo Lockette couldnt believe his good fortune.
The speedy receiver was leading the sprint downfield for the Seattle Seahawks punt coverage team Sunday when he noticed how St. Louis Rams return man Justin Veltung was focused on the ball, the whole ball, and nothing but the ball.
A return specialist preparing to field a punt also must be aware if there are tacklers in the area, but Veltung was concerned with the spiral above him instead of the menace in front of him. Had he taken a moment to glance ahead, hed have called a fair catch.
I just watched his eyes, Lockette said after the Seahawks 27-9 victory at CenturyLink Field. He never looked down. As I got closer, I started thinking, OK, all right, if this is the way he wants to do this ...
Lockette simulated the sound of his full-speed collision with the Rams stationary return man.
The Lockette blast, delivered on the final play of the first quarter, was symbolic of a game that produced some of the greatest hits of the 2013 season. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate contributed some juke-move artistry with a late 47-yard touchdown catch, but otherwise the division-clinching victory was a brutal, 3-hour scrum against a familiar NFC West opponent.
We understand the St. Louis Rams, fullback Michael Robinson said. They are a physical front seven, and you have to put your big boy pads on when you go against them. Its a bar fight, and you like that. Thats football.
Well, some of it was a football game, and some of it was a mind game gone awry. The Rams tactic was to compete until they heard a whistle, which became their cue to exchange yaps and gibes until they heard another whistle.
CenturyLink Field was its usual bastion of boisterousness, but Sunday was a rare case of 68,264 fans making less noise than the 53 visitors in white uniforms.
We knew that after the game, those guys would be going home with no more football to play, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. We knew they wanted to spoil our plans.
Clearly determined to get under the Seahawks skin, it was St. Louis that unraveled. Penalty flags were dropped on the Rams seven times in the first quarter, four times in the second and six times in the third, but only twice in the fourth quarter, suggesting the visitors either gave up their attempt to irritate the Hawks or the officials were too exhausted to pick up many more flags.
A first-quarter sequence was typical of St. Louis afternoon.
After the Rams Chase Reynolds was flagged for running into Jon Ryan on a punt, Reynolds was penalized again for unnecessary roughness just after Seattles Mike Morgan was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Meanwhile, a few yards away, officials determined the Rams William Hayes guilty of holding.
Four penalties on one play, three on the Rams, and all of them wiped out by an NFL rule that calls for a do-over if flags are dropped on both teams.
Ryans second punt attempt went a little more according to form, with only the Rams Ray-Ray Armstrong called for unnecessary roughness.
In the third quarter, St. Louis penalties accounted for 20 of the last 22 yards of an 80-yard Seahawks touchdown drive made memorable by the helmet-throwing meltdown of Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford. He was ejected after he pointed his finger and accidentally knocked a cap off an officials head.
To throw three or four flags on one play, you dont see that happen, said Hawks offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, something of an expert on the topic of penalties.
Four flags on one play? If Giacomini hasnt seen it happen, it hasnt happened.
There were times where we could have gotten in trouble with those guys, Robinson said. But we kind of let them do their thing, and they messed up, not us.
Concurred Lockette: We had plans not to talk back. Its part of being professional.