Jordan Hill was beaming at his locker over his first career interception.
Five feet to the defensive tackle’s left, Michael Bennett was beaming even more. The Seahawks defensive end pantomimed rocking an infant in his tattooed arms.
“He’s my baby,” Bennett said.
Hill, Seattle’s third-round draft choice in 2013, made the best interception a 303-pound man could to turn a 6-6 tie in the fourth quarter Sunday into Seattle’s first lead of the eventual 20-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks clinched the NFC West title and the top seed in the conference playoffs for the second consecutive year with the win.
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On the first play of the final period, Rams 13-year veteran backup Shaun Hill tried to throw a screen pass to running back Tre Mason on second and 19 from the Seahawks’ 34. Linebacker Bobby Wagner, Bennett and friends destroyed the play by swarming Mason. Before the ball hit the turf behind the line, Jordan Hill dived and scooped the ball with both arms for his first career interception. He even got up and ran 8 yards with it, to midfield.
“They had it covered so you have to burn the ball into the ground,” said Shaun Hill, the quarterback. “But it has to be at the running back’s feet. … Their guy made a crazy play on it.”
Crazy for a 300-pound pass rusher.
“That was amazing,” Bennett said.
“I kind of got a read on the guard that it was going to be a screen or a draw. I knew from down and distance and film study,” Jordan Hill said. “I followed the running back. He tried to throw it away — and I went for it.”
Hill’s been going for it for six weeks now.
The former Penn State standout has 5½ sacks and that unlikely interception in his last six games after having zero of each in his first seven. He was so inert, coaches left him off Seattle’s active game-day roster for three consecutive games — October’s loss to the Rams in St. Louis, then the wins over Carolina and Oakland.
As for Bennett being a proud papa: Hill’s uprising has coincided with the standout defensive end taking Hill out for extra work on technique such as footwork and hand moves following practices.
Many are noting how quarterback Russell Wilson’s ratings and statistics have been so much better on the road this season than at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks care only about these numbers: Their third-year quarterback improved to 24-2 at home in his career.
Wilson completed 17 of 25 passes for 239 yards and tossed his first interception in seven weeks. He ran for 7 yards on six carries, as the Rams contained Wilson better than they did in October when they beat Seattle 28-26.
Wilson’s best throw was one of his few improvisational plays. It came in the third quarter with Seattle down 6-3. He scrambled from near midfield and threw on the run to wide open tight end Tony Moeaki at the Rams 23. That set up Steven Hauschka’s tying field goal.
The Seahawks scored 14 points off their defense in the fourth quarter after that to pull away.
“That’s what championship teams do,” Wilson said. “When we have a chance to put our foot down, we try to find a way to finish it.”
After missing three field goals in the 35-6 win at Arizona the previous week, Hauschka made both of his attempts Sunday, from 42 and 45 yards.
That was a couple of days after the kicker addressed the team in a huddle following a walk-through practice. He thanked his teammates for their support during and after the Cardinals game. Tailback Marshawn Lynch playfully encouraged him on the sideline during last week’s game. Then Wilson and others talked to him last week.
“Oh, man. That’s the best feeling as a player on the team when you have a tough week. We have the best teammates around right here, in this locker room,” Hauschka said. “I think that’s why we are playing so well. Everyone’s got each other’s backs.”
On Sunday, the Seahawks staggered through their first scoreless first half since Oct. 23, 2011, at Cleveland.
The second half wasn’t much better that day, as the Browns won, 6-3. But on Sunday, Seattle rallied for a 20-6 win over the Rams — after gaining 189 yards in the first half but scoring nothing thanks to Wilson’s interception, Lynch’s lost fumble on a screen pass, and other mistakes.
Receiver Doug Baldwin was asked about the message at halftime.
“Just do your job, pretty much,” he said. (Cornerback Richard Sherman) was screaming it, and we reiterated it on offense: Just do your job. You don’t have to do anything special to make anything up. Just do your job.”
Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse from Lakewood missed his second game in two seasons because of a hamstring injury he got in last week’s win at Arizona. Kearse’s availability for the postseason is unknown. That meant rookie Kevin Norwood was active after being inactive at Arizona.
Kearse had 38 catches in 15 regular-season games, 16 more than last season. Twenty-seven of those receptions this season came after Seattle traded Percy Harvin in October.
Hill had ice on his left knee after the game. Coach Pete Carroll said it was a sprain. This week’s bye, Seattle’s first since late September, will be timely for him. … Backup S Jeron Johnson dislocated his elbow on a kickoff with 12 minutes left and did not return. … LB K.J. Wright dislocated his finger, and the bone was sticking out. Carroll said Wright “for sure” will be back for the playoffs. … At the end of pregame warmups, Seahawks Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent was on the field presenting SS Kam Chancellor with the team’s Steve Largent Award. It’s a man-of-the-year-like award honoring spirit, integrity and dedication to the franchise. … C Max Unger was out for the sixth consecutive game after practicing on a limited basis. Patrick Lewis, signed off Cleveland’s practice squad in October, started the second consecutive game at center. … The rest of Seattle’s inactives were expected: CB Tharold Simon (shoulder), G Keavon Milton (last man in the offensive-line rotation), TE Cooper Helfet (ribs) and DE Demarcus Dobbs (ankle). The Seahawks had only six inactives because they had only 52 on the active roster (maximum of 53) after releasing seldom-used DT Travian Robertson on Friday. … Former Bothell High School quarterback Johnny Hekker had 2 55-yard punts for the Rams. He had more than 20 friends and family members here. … Former Seattle SuperSonics NBA coach George Karl raised the 12th Man flag commemorating Seahawks fans while wearing a lime-green down coat above the south end zone immediately before kickoff. “George Karl getting everybody fired up, and the whole place was crazy and all that,” Carroll said. “Just so much fun to be a part of.”