When Todd Gurley stretched the ball toward the goal line, Earl Thomas soared in with perfect timing and a martial arts-style chop to the running back’s arm, knocking the ball out for a touchback.
After an impressive start to the season, the Rams thought they were ready to run past the NFC West’s perennial power.
Thomas and the Seattle Seahawks barely swatted away the upstarts in a defensive performance full of timely brilliance.
Russell Wilson passed for 198 yards and a touchdown, and Thomas forced two of the Rams’ five turnovers in the Seahawks’ 16-10 victory Sunday.
Jimmy Graham scored late in the first half in a defence-dominated win for the Seahawks (3-2), who shut out the NFL’s highest-scoring offence in the second half and won despite getting outgained 375-241.
“We all played so well on defence,” Thomas said. “Even when our back was against the wall, we squared up in the red zone. This is the No. 1 offence, and we did a great job.”
Thomas made enormous plays early and late. The veteran safety stripped Gurley at the pylon to kill the Rams’ opening drive, and he intercepted Jared Goff’s fluttering pass at midfield with 6:02 to play.
Sheldon Richardson also came through with two big plays, diving to intercept a deflected pass in the third quarter before scooping up Goff’s fumble near midfield with 2:45 left.
“He’s going to be all right,” Richardson said of Goff, who went 22 of 47 for 288 yards with three costly turnovers. “He’s not the same guy from last year. But he’s no Tom Brady yet.”
Goff moved the Rams 55 yards in the final 1:09, but Seattle’s defence made its final stop. Rams rookie Cooper Kupp barely missed a diving TD grab on third down, and Goff’s fourth-down pass to Kupp was too low.
“For our guys to come through and finish like that, that’s as exciting as the game gets,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Tavon Austin rushed for a 27-yard TD for Los Angeles (3-2). After a quick start to the season that caught the NFL’s attention, the Rams wasted their strong defensive game when new coach Sean McVay’s offence ran into the Legion of Boom.
“We had a 12-play drive and a 13-play drive that went for no points, so it wasn’t so much we weren’t moving the ball,” Goff said. “We just weren’t finishing drives. We got into the red zone and didn’t do a good job. That’s where it shows up. You see why Seattle has been so good for so long defensively.”
Wilson didn’t have big numbers, but the quarterback put on a performance of vintage resourcefulness, repeatedly wriggling away from the Rams’ pursuing defence to make plays. Blair Walsh’s two second-half field goals turned out to be the difference for Seattle, which managed just 97 yards in the second half.
SOLID START FOR RAMS
Austin, the wide receiver used more often as a ball carrier by McVay, scored the game’s first points when he took a handoff and high-stepped to the end zone early in the second quarter.
Wilson then threw an interception to Rams rookie John Johnson, who returned it 69 yards before Wilson made a possible touchdown-saving tackle.
Thomas forced Gurley’s fumble on a play that was ruled a touchdown on the field, but went to video review because it could have been seen three ways: A touchdown, out of bounds on the 1, or a fumble and touchback. Officials eventually ruled Gurley had lost control of the ball an instant before stepping out of bounds.
“I did a great job watching the Bruce Lee movies, and it kind of carried over to the football field,” Thomas said of his chop.
Thomas made an incredibly similar play against the St. Louis Rams in 2014, chopping the ball out of Benny Cunningham’s hand at the goal line.
SO CLOSE AGAIN
Kupp, the Rams’ impressive third-round choice, barely missed the biggest catch of his young career on a tough ball. “I expect to make that play,” said Kupp, who had three catches for 44 yards. “I can’t say anything about whether it was behind me or a one-hand catch. If I’m putting my hands on the ball, I’ve got to make that play.”
Seahawks: DE Michael Bennett went to the locker room late in the first half after injuring his right foot. He returned for the second half, keeping Seattle sound at the position while playing without injured Cliff Avril and Quinton Jefferson.
Rams: Starting safeties Lamarcus Joyner and Maurice Alexander both didn’t play. Joyner had a hamstring injury, but Alexander’s absence wasn’t injury-related. “It was nothing disciplinary,” McVay said, calling it a personnel decision.
Seahawks: A bye week, followed by a trip to the New York Giants on Sunday, Oct. 22.
Rams: At Jacksonville on Sunday before travelling to London.
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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press