This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
ST. LOUIS – The Seattle Seahawks were one yard from having their season begin to crumble in on them, one yard from doubt and consternation becoming a constant companion over the final five games.
But with the St. Louis Rams facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 30 seconds left in Sunday's divisional game, quarterback Gus Frerotte fumbled the snap and then was tackled from behind by Darryl Tapp, preserving a 24-19 victory before 65,423 suddenly catatonic fans at the Edward Jones Dome, Seattle's third consecutive win.
And just like that, the Seahawks went from being distressed and second-guessed to celebratory.
The final play -- reminiscent of Tony Romo's fumble on a field goal attempt in the playoffs against Dallas last season – consummated a bizarre day in which nothing seemed to go right for the Seahawks for a half and they still were able to walk away with their sixth consecutive defeat of St. Louis.
Afterward, virtually everybody in the Seahawks locker room, and particularly coach Mike Holmgren, bore countenances of shock and dismay, well aware that their record improved to 7-4 though common sense suggests it should not be so.
The Seahawks won despite missing two field goals, dropping three passes, giving up four sacks, an interception, a fumble and falling behind by 19-7. They won despite sleep-walking through the first half. And they won despite a lackluster day by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, playing with injured ribs.
"I really love this football team," Holmgren said. "But they have it in their agenda to test me to my limits. But we'll get through it. As my father used to say, if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger."
The win became considerably less certain when kicker Josh Brown missed his second field goal of the day, a 52-yarder, with 2:49 remaining, something that was perhaps precipitated by a high snap from Boone Stutz.
On the Rams' 34, Holmgren said he considered punting the ball to give St. Louis further to go to score a touchdown. But he wanted an eight-point lead to guarantee at least a tie.
As it was, St. Louis got the ball back on its own 42. On the third play of the final possession, safety Deon Grant was whistled for pass interference because he had grabbed the hand of Isaac Bruce on a deep throw over the middle. It gave St. Louis the ball at Seattle's 15.
"I did it so smooth," Grant said. "He was just running by and I touched his hand to throw him off, but the ref didn't see it. He saw Isaac going off and thought, 'I've got to call something."
Steven Jackson gained a yard on first down. Frerotte, playing because starter Marc Bulger left the game in the first quarter with a concussion, hit Bruce for eight yards to Seattle's 6. And Frerotte sneaked two yards for a first down at Seattle's 4, setting up the game-deciding series with 1:03 left.
Frerotte bounced an incompletion intended for Bruce on first down. On second down, he hit Drew Bennett at the 2, but Jordan Babineaux made a big tackle. And on third down, Jackson gained a yard.
Seattle called a timeout to set up its defense. The Rams came out in an I-formation, but then Frerotte called a timeout. The already tense moment became even more suspenseful.
Defensive coordinator John Marshall earlier in the week had installed a new goalline defense, which he now called. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu told the defensive linemen to get low, get pressure and stay in their gaps. The Rams came out in a different formation, with Jackson behind Frerotte and fullback Brian Leonard behind the right tackle.
The play was supposed to go to Jackson over the right tackle, behind Leonard. But earlier, center Brett Romberg re-injured his ankle and was replaced by veteran Andy McCollum. The exchange between McCollum and Frerotte was muffed.
"It just came out," Frerotte said. "It wasn't a perfect exchange. It just happened."
Frerotte gathered the ball and tried to run to his right, but Tapp had broken through the line and wrapped up Frerotte before he could even get going.
"The only thing I was thinking was, 'Get there,'" Tapp said. "I was probably the only guy there that was free on my side. I knew I had to make the play and I was able to do that."
It was Seattle's second goal line stand of the game, and it ended a second half in which it didn't allow the Rams (2-9), whose two-game win streak was snapped, a point.
With Arizona's overtime loss to San Francisco, Frerotte's fumble turned Seattle's chicken salad into Cordon Bleu, the Seahawks (7-4) now leading the division by two games. It gives them a buffer with three of their five remaining games on the East Coast.
St. Louis took an early 9-0 lead when the Rams tackled Maurice Morris in the end zone for a safety, then, after getting possession again, saw Jackson run 53 yards on the first play. It was the third time in five road games the Seahawks have fallen behind in the first half.
The Seahawks were bothered early and often by St. Louis's pressure, Hasselbeck sacked twice on the first series of the game. Seattle did not get a first down until 7:06 remained in the half.
But they stayed close because rookie Josh Wilson returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, pulling them to 9-7 and reinvigorating their spirits, which clearly were sagging.
The Rams went ahead 16-7 on a 15-yard pass to Isaac Bruce after a Nate Burleson fumble. They went ahead 19-7 on a field goal by Jeff Wilkins -- but it could have been much worse because the Rams had first and goal at the 1.
That seemed to give Seattle's defense confidence because it never let St. Louis in the end zone again. Close. But never there.
"Today wasn't pretty," safety Brian Russell said. "But I think if you are going to be a good team you have to be able to win a few ugly ones."