Even when the Seattle Seahawks were slogging along at 3-3 and 6-4 around the midpoint of the season, finishing on top of the NFC still remained the goal.
That's exactly where the Seahawks ended up after closing the season on a dominant six-game win streak. And now they get their reward: A needed week of rest and a guarantee that they will not have to leave the Pacific Northwest throughout the NFC playoffs.
"The rest is important but we're playing fast at the end of the year right now. Our energy is there and we look like we're in midseason form in that regard," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Monday. "I don't have any problem with that. But for the injury factor and we'll be a little bit fresher. And that is really a plus this time of the year so of course it works out really well."
Seattle clinched the NFC West title and home-field advantage with Sunday's 20-6 win over St. Louis. Turned out the season finale against the Rams was a microcosm for Seattle's entire season. The first half was a struggle, just as the first-half of the regular season was tough at times as the Seahawks adapted to being defending Super Bowl champions.
But the finish against the Rams was nearly flawless -- the Seahawks closed out the season on a six-game win streak. Seattle's defense -- best in the NFL for a second straight season -- again came through with critical, game-changing plays.
The Seahawks forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter, scoring on one when Bruce Irvin returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown and denying another touchdown when Earl Thomas karate-chopped the ball free from Benny Cunningham at the 1-yard line when it appeared St. Louis was going to score.
Statistically, the Seahawks led the NFL in total defense (267.1) and pass defense (185.6), and were third in run defense (81.5). Seattle was the only team in the NFL to give up less than 300 yards per game for the season.
What Seattle accomplished in its finishing push really stands out. Over the final six games, the Seahawks allowed three total touchdowns, 39 total points and kept five of six opponents to 7 points or less. None of the six gained more than 250 yards of offense and only San Francisco in Week 15 gained more than 64 yards on the ground. Seattle's averages allowed during the six-game streak: 6.5 points per game; 202.2 total yards per game; 66 yards rushing; and 136.2 yards passing.
But the statistic that might trump them all: Seattle did not allow an opponent to score in the fourth quarter in any of the six games. While that might not seem like a major accomplishment, it's a rarity in NFL history. According to STATS, the Seahawks were the first team since Tampa Bay in 1996 to hold six straight opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter in the same season. Throw in that Seattle won all six games and it was the first team since Washington in 1940 to accomplish that feat.
Seattle played from ahead in all of the games, with the exception of Sunday's win over St. Louis. In the previous five, Seattle held the lead going to the fourth quarter. Carroll said playing with a lead has taken the worry of the run game out of the defensive plan and allowed Seattle to be more precise in its pass defense.
The Seahawks have also forced six fourth-quarter turnovers during the win streak.
"I think that's a really cool stat. I love that stat. Fourth quarters of these games haven't been able to score," Carroll said. "It's about finishing and that's something we take great pride in."
NOTES: Carroll said DT Jordan Hill (knee) and SS Jeron Johnson (elbow) both suffered significant injuries Sunday but Carroll would not rule either out for Seattle's first playoff game. Carroll said both would be evaluated next week. ... C Max Unger (ankle), TE Cooper Helfet (ribs), WR Jermaine Kearse (hamstring), DE Demarcus Dobbs (ankle) will all have a chance at returning for Seattle's playoff opener.