Published December 13, 2011
SEATTLE – What impresses Marshawn Lynch isn't his streak of nine straight games with a touchdown or yet another 100-yard performance.
It's that the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line hasn't missed a beat despite season-ending injuries to three starters over the last month.
"I see those guys come in every week and they strain, they put it upon themselves to make sure they know what they've got going on and what they need to be doing," Lynch said after running for 115 yards and a 16-yard touchdown in the closing minutes of the Seahawks 30-13 win over St. Louis on Monday night.
Lynch topped 100 yards rushing for the fifth time in the last six games and Seattle (6-7) kept its slim playoff hopes alive by winning for the 13th time in its last 14 against the struggling Rams (2-11).
With Russell Okung lost to a torn pectoral muscle after a Thursday night victory over Philadelphia last week, the depth of the offense line was again put to the test against the Rams. Paul McQuistan moved from right guard to left tackle and Lemuel Jeanpierre stepped in at right guard.
Yet all Seattle did was post its sixth straight game with 100-plus yards rushing as a team. It's the first time since 1996 that Seattle has posted six straight 100-yard efforts — a stretch that's included Chris Warren, Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander in the Seahawks' backfield.
The Seahawks have stretched their line depth to the limit. They've been able to fill holes so far with players that have been with Seattle all season long, working the same system day in and day out. The luxury of that depth is now gone and the team is counting on the line to continue its production despite the attrition.
"We got new guys coming in and that's not really an excuse," center Max Unger said. "You've got to have the same guys step up that have been together for a while now. It's coming together."
Lynch didn't get the spotlight all to himself. Undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin had the best game of his young career with seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, and three huge special teams plays in the first five minutes.
Baldwin's influence on the game was evident from the start, when he took a pitch from Leon Washington on a kickoff reverse and returned it beyond the 40. Seattle was later forced to punt, but it was Baldwin racing from the outside to down the ball at the Rams 6.
Then came his biggest special teams contribution.
Coming almost entirely untouched off the right end, Baldwin blocked a punt off the foot of Donnie Jones. The bounding ball hopped up into the arms of Michael Robinson, who went 17 yards to give the Seahawks an early 7-0 lead.
"As far as my expectations go, I expected to be successful. I didn't know how successful, but I expected to be able to come in here and win a job in some capacity, because if you don't have that confidence in yourself you're not going to win a job," Baldwin said. "To be where I am now, no I didn't expect this. But at the same time I'm not satisfied."
As a receiver, he disappeared until the third quarter when he snagged a 22-yard reception across the middle to convert a third-and-11 near midfield. On the next play, Baldwin faked going inside and broke to the sideline, losing Darian Stewart in coverage. Tarvaris Jackson found Baldwin and he got just inside the pylon to give the Seahawks a 14-point lead.
Baldwin had six of his seven catches in the second half.
"He just continues to do stuff. Every chance you give him, he does something," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "He's just such a battler. He's a great competitor and I've said it before, he's got a chip on his shoulder that drives him to be a tough guy and a playmaker."
Jackson wasn't splashy, but completed 21 of 32 for 224 yards and his TD toss to Baldwin. And he was far better than St. Louis starter Sam Bradford.
Despite a high left ankle sprain and very little practice time, Bradford started on Monday night and his rustiness showed. Bradford was 12 of 29 for 193 yards, was intercepted by Brandon Browner on the first play of the second half and nearly picked off on a handful of other throws. His 49.9 quarterback rating was the third-lowest of his young career and worst this season.
Steven Jackson had 50 yards rushing on 11 carries by halftime, including dashes of 11 yards twice and 10 yards once. He was limited to just 42 yards on 15 carries when the teams met a few weeks ago and the Rams were trying to exploit the Seahawks' secondary. He finished with 63 yards on 20 carries, but was ignored for five plays from the Seattle 1 in the fourth quarter before finally scoring on a third-and-goal plunge.
That was the extent of the highlights for the Rams.
"You don't want to get behind. You want to play from ahead. It's hardest to play defense from behind. But yet, I thought we recovered fairly well from that. In my mind, we got through the first half," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Were in there swinging away, it was a pretty tight football game at the end of the third quarter. You have to recover from those things. We're away, it's a hostile environment. It's a great environment. We didn't let it get away until the end of the fourth quarter."
Notes: Lynch's nine straight games with a TD match a franchise record held by Alexander. ... Steven Jackson's 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was St. Louis' first offensive TD in Seattle since September 2008. ... Josh Brown made field goals of 46 and 29 yards for the Rams. ... Steven Hauschka hit field goals of 42, 23 and 48 yards for Seattle, but missed from 38. It was his first miss inside 40 yards this season.
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