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Benjamin Cunningham

St. Louis Rams running back Benjamin Cunningham (36) fumbles in the end zone and the ball goes out of bounds for a touchback under pressure from Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell (41) and Earl Thomas, center, in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

SEATTLE • We've seen this one before: The Rams fight hard, hang in the game, then make a couple of costly mistakes that prove to the be the difference.

After taking an early 6-0 lead on the defending Super Bowl champions, the Rams couldn't add to that point total even though they got as close as the Seattle half-yard line.

A busted coverage by — surprise! — Janoris Jenkins led to the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. That followed a play in which quarterback Shaun Hill tried to throw the ball in the ground but instead threw an interception.

The last gasp came with 6 minutes to play when Benny Cunningham, lunging for the end zone and a touchdown, had the ball slapped away and out of the end zone. The result was a touchback, with Seattle taking over at its 20.

The end result was a 20-6 loss that left the Rams at 6-10, their worst record since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach in 2012. Seattle, winners of six in a row and nine of their last 10, finished at 12-4 to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs.

On the strength of a pair of Greg Zuerlein fields goals, the Rams took a 6-0 lead into the locker room at halftime even though they were outgained 189 yards to 66 by Seahawks. Two takeaways helped keep Seattle off the scoreboard.

A late hit by Seattle cover man Ricardo Lockette on Rams punt returner Tavon Austin gave the Rams starting position at the 50 on their second possession of the game. Austin had signaled for a fair catch before being hit by Lockette.

The Rams were able to scratch out 35 yards on 11 plays to reach the red zone, before settling for a 33-yard field goal by Zuerlein and a 3-0 lead with 6:25 left to go in the first quarter.

Seattle's top-ranked defense gave up yards grudgingly, but the Rams were able to put together three first downs on the drive before stalling out.

Seattle tested the Rams' defense on its next possession, going for it on fourth-and-5 from the St. Louis 35 with 1:21 left in the opening quarter. But linebacker James Laurinaitis stopped tight end Luke Wilson about a half-yard short of the first-down marker, and the Rams took over on downs.

Then came the takeaways. Five minutes into the second quarter, with Seattle facing a third-and-8, a scrambling quarterback Russell Wilson made a rare bad decision under pressure. Just as he was getting hit by defensive end Robert Quinn, Wilson threw over the middle.

The hit affected the trajectory, and rookie cornerback Marcus Roberson came up with his first NFL interception. Roberson, playing in his first game since Nov. 2 at San Francisco, returned the ball 18 yards to the St. Louis 40.

The Rams couldn't get anything going on that possession, but benefited from good field position after the Johnny Hekker punt. On second-and-2 from the Seattle 21, Marshawn Lynch took a screen pass from Wilson.

Lynch was heading for a first down and more when stripped from behind by linebacker Alec Ogletree. Safety T.J. McDonald scooped up the fumble and the Rams took over on the Seattle 34. Three plays, plus a false start penalty on Davin Joseph gained zero yards, but Zuerlein was true on a 52-yard field goal attempt that gave the Rams a 6-0 lead with 4:18 left in the half.

That's the way the half ended, but Seattle got on the board on its first possession after taking the second-half kickoff. The big play on the drive was a 32-yard pass play from Wilson to wide receiver Paul Richardson.

Cornerback Jenkins was in good position on the play, a go route down the left sideline, but Richardson basically plucked the ball before it could get to Jenkins' hands. That gave Seattle, which only had 117 yards passing in the first half, a first down at the St. Louis 26.

But the Rams' defense stiffened and Seattle had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka, trimming the St. Louis lead to 6-3. With the crowd turning up the volume, momentum seemed to be shifting Seattle's way.

After a 3-and-out in which the Rams lost six yards, Seattle took over on its 31 after a Hekker punt and moved quickly into field goal range. The big play was a 21-yard strike from Wilson to tight end Tony Moeaki, who was not picked up by a Rams defender on the play.

But once again, the Seahawks had to settle for three points, this time on a 45-yarder by Hauschka that tied the game at 6-6 with 4:45 left in the third quarter. Rookie defensive back Lamarcus Joyner helped keep the Seahawks out of the end zone by registering his first NFL sack on third-and-4 from the St. Louis 21.

Following that kick, the Rams put together what at the time was their best drive of the day. Hill completed five passes, including a 12-yarder to Jared Cook for a first down to the Seattle 25.

After a one-yard gain by Tre Mason and a holding penalty against Stedman Bailey, the Rams faced a second-and-19 from the Seattle 34 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The Rams tried to set up a screen pass on the first play of the final quarter, but intended receiver Mason was well-covered. So Hill attempted to throw the ball into the turf to kill the play. Instead, Seattle defensive tackle Jordan Hill grabbed the ball before it hit the turf for an interception.

Hill returned the ball eight yards to the Seattle 46. The Seahawks subsequently faced a third-and-7 from the St. Louis 40, when a busted coverage by Jenkins led to a 31-yard gain by Kevin Norwood to the 9.

Jenkins initially was lined up over Norwood on the outside, but Jenkins totally ignored him, committing inside in the direction of slot receiver Doug Baldwin. That left Norwood wide open.

On the next play, Lynch scored untouched on a 9-yard rush up the middle _ defensive tackle Kendall Langford wasn't even in his stance when the ball was snapped _ and that was that for any hopes of a Rams victory.

So trailing 13-6, the Rams got the ball back, and gained a couple of first downs to their 43. But on first down from the 43, a pass from Hill to tight end Lance Kendricks was poked loose before Kendricks could establish control but grabbed in the air just a few feet away by Seattle linebacker Byron Irvin.

Irving made the interception a "pick 6" when he returned it 49 yards for a touchdown and a 20-6 Seattle lead with 9:50 left to play.


Here are the updates posted during the game by Post-Dispatch football writer Joe Lyons:

After being held in check by the Rams' defense through the first half, the Seattle Seahawks capitalized on a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions to overcome a 6-0 halftime deficit and blow by the Rams 20-6 Sunday.

With the win, the Seahawks (12-4) repeat as NFC West champs and earn the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Seattle, the reigning Super Bowl champion, has won six in a row and 9 of 10 since losing 28-26 in St. Louis on Oct. 19.

The Rams finished 6-10 with losses in their final three games of the season.

On the first play of the final quarter, with the Rams driving and in field-goal range, Shaun Hill was simply trying to throw the ball away when Jordan Hill, a 6-foot-1, 303-pound defensive tackle, came up with an athletic diving interception. Six plays and 54 yards later, Marshawn Lynch scored on a 9-yard burst up the middle to give Seattle its first lead of the day at 13-6 with 12:07 to play in the game. The big play of the drive, a 31-yard pass from Russell Wilson to rookie Kevin Norwood, was the result of some miscommunication in the secondary that left the Norwood wide open along the left sideline.

The Seattle defense added to the lead on the next Rams' possession. On a pass from Hill to tight end Lance Kendricks, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner knocked the ball away from Kendricks and into the arms of linebacker Bruce Irvin, who returned it 49 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-6 with 9:50 left in the game.

The Rams responded with their best drive of the day, only to have it end in frustration. On a third-and-goal play from the Seattle 6, Benny Cunningham caught a swing pass out of the backfield from Shaun Hill. As he neared the goal line, Cunningham lunged for the pylon and the ball was knocked from his hands by safety Earl Thomas. When the ball bounced through the end zone, it was ruled a touchback with Seattle taking over at the 20-yard line.

RAMS, SEAHAWKS TIED AT 6 WITH ONE QUARTER LEFT

Down 6-0 at the half, the Seahawks opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 56-yard drive capped by a 42-yard field goal from Steven Hauschka that cut the Rams' lead to 6-3 with 11:13 left in the third quarter. The key play of the drive was a 32-yard pass from Russell Wilson to rookie Paul Richardson, who went high in the air to win a 50-50 battle with Janoris Jenkins for the ball down the left sideline.

After a three-and-out to force a punt, the Seahawks moved 42 yards on eight plays and pulled even at 6-6 when Hauschka booted a 45-yard field goal with 4:45 to play in the third quarter. Key plays of the drive were a 13-yard pass from Wilson to Paul Richardson and a 21-yarder from Wilson to tight end Tony Moeaki.

RAMS TAKE 6-0 LEAD TO HALFTIME 

The Rams created the game's first turnover as pressure applied by Pro Bowler Robert Quinn and company forced Russell Wilson to overthow a receiver and allowed rookie Marcus Roberson to come up with his first career interception. He returned the ball to the Rams' 40. The visitors moved into Seattle territory before a sack eventually forced the Rams to punt.

The Rams forced another turnover in Seattle territory. On a screen pass, Marshawn Lynch made a nice cutback move to elude linebacker Alec Ogletree, but Ogletree stuck with the play and eventually stripped Lynch of the ball. T.J. McDonald scooped up the loose ball and returned it 3 yards to the Seattle 34.

Four plays later, Greg Zuerlein drilled a 52-yarder to put the Rams on top 6-0 with 4:18 to play before halftime.

The Rams nearly created another turnover in the half's waning seconds when Russell Wilson fumbled while being sacked by Rams' rookie Aaron Donald. The fumble was recovered by Seattle rookie tackle Justin Britt, a University of Missouri product.

Some quick halftime numbers:

• The Rams have just 66 yards of offense (51 passing, 15 rushing). Shaun Hill has completed 8 of 12 passes for 61 yards. Tre Mason has two catches for 20 yards while Kenny Britt has two catches for 19 yards. Benny Cunningham leads the rushing attack with 10 yards on four carries.

James Laurinaitis has been in on six tackles. Aaron Donald and Mark Barron have sacks, Donald and Alec Ogletree have forced fumbles and T.J. McDonald has a fumble recovery. Rookie Marques Roberson has an interception.

• Russell Wilson has completed 8 of 13 passes for 117 yards but 38 of those came on a pass Doug Baldwin as time expired in the half. Marshawn Lynch (7 carries, 29 yards) and Robert Turbin (7 carries, 36 yards) lead the Seattle ground game.

The Seahawks have rushed for 83 yards and thrown for 106.

RAMS UP 3-0 AFTER ONE QUARTER

The Rams, who beat Seattle 28-26 in St. Louis on Oct. 19, grabbed the 3-0 lead on a 33-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein with 6:25 to play in the first quarter. The 11-play, 35-yard drive featured a 10-yard pass from Shaun Hill to Kenny Britt and an 8-yard screen pass from Hill to Tre Mason.

The ensuing Seattle drive was stopped in Rams' territory as middle linebacker James Laurinaitis stopped tight end Luke Wilson a yard short after hauling in a fourth-and-five pass from Russell Wilson. With a little over a minute to play in the quarter, the Rams took possession at their own 31-yard-line.

GAINES SCRATCHED DUE TO CONCUSSION

SEATTLE • As expected, the Rams will play without rookie cornerback E.J. Gaines, who was a pregame scratch Sunday because of a concussion suffered last week against the New York Giants.

Gaines, the sixth-round draft pick from the University of Missouri, has been the Rams' most consistent corner this season. With Gaines out, rookie second-rounder Lamarcus Joyner is expected to see a lot of action as the Rams' nickel back.

And undrafted rookie Marcus Roberson will suit up for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in the Rams' 13-10 victory at San Francisco on Nov. 2. Roberson has missed the last seven games, although he's been healthy for the last few.

Other Rams inactives besides Gaines: TE Justice Cunningham, C/G Barrett Jones, OG Brandon Washington, TE Alex Bayer, DT Alex Carrington, and DE Ethan Westbrooks.

Gaines had started the first 15 games of his rookie season. 

Seattle's inactive list included two starters: WR Jermaine Kearse (hamstring), and two-time Pro Bowl C Max Unger (ankle, knee). The rest of Seahawks inactives CB Tharold Simon, OG Keavon Milton, TE Cooper Helfet, and DE Demarcus Dobbs.

The Seahawks had to name only six pregame inactives because they have only 52 players on their active roster.

(Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.)

Jim Thomas covers Blues hockey for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.