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Originally published Sunday, January 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks

Loss to rival St. Louis ends Seattle's season

They came because they thought their football heroes would truly hear their cheers, and that would carry their team over the top. They lined up en masse to get inside Qwest Field...

Seattle Times staff reporter

They came because they thought their football heroes would truly hear their cheers, and that would carry their team over the top.

They lined up en masse to get inside Qwest Field for the biggest pro football game in this city in five years, and some even were late because of more thorough security searches.

And after those five years without a home playoff game, plus 15 more without a playoff win, it ended too fast and too soon. No matter how bad everyone on the field and in the stands wanted it.

The St. Louis Rams continued their mastery over Seattle, winning yesterday's NFC wild-card game 27-20 and ending the Seahawks' season. It was the third victory of the season for the Rams over the Seahawks, and the most disheartening of all three.

On the Seahawks' last chance to tie the score, the ball slipped through the grasp of wide receiver Bobby Engram in the end zone, suddenly sucking the life from the crowd of 65,397 that wanted to believe.

The play will be etched into this city's memory forever, becoming another chapter in the already voluminous another-Seattle-team-that couldn't win-the-big-one book.

On fourth-and-four from the Rams' 5-yard line with 27 seconds left, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck attempted to sidearm a prayer of a pass through heavy traffic. Engram was the only possible target, as Hasselbeck was under heavy pressure and couldn't take a sack.

On his knees, Engram appeared to cradle the ball. In an instant, it popped free and onto the painted turf in the end zone.

Incomplete. Rams' ball. St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk flapped his arms in mockery of the Seahawks' fans in the south end zone. All hope was gone as quarterback Marc Bulger took a knee and the clock expired.

"There's no excuses," Engram said in the locker room, trying his best to stay composed as he painfully relived the final offensive play of the Seahawks' season.

"The ball came in hot. I had a chance to make the play. I didn't make the play."

Engram will have the offseason to think about what would have been a great catch. But the Seahawks deserved some credit for at least being in a position to send the game into overtime, after all that had transpired and seemed to work against them.

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It couldn't have started much worse. Three plays into the game, Bulger went deep for Torry Holt on a corner route, gaining 53 yards as Holt found a seam in the Seahawks' zone coverage.

Moments later, on third-and-14 from the Seattle 15, Bulger found Holt in front of safety Marquand Manuel in the end zone for the touchdown. Holt appeared to lose control of the ball for a split second. The Seahawks challenged the touchdown call, but it was upheld.

The Seahawks got the ball for the first time already trailing, and on their very first offensive play, disaster struck. Hasselbeck was intercepted by Travis Fisher, a pass to Darrell Jackson glancing off Jackson's pads and into Fisher's hands.

Ken Hamlin's interception two Rams plays later staved off a scoring chance for St. Louis, and the Seahawks were able to put together a scoring drive before the first quarter ended.

But the Rams, in a series reminiscent of the big plays they made to upend the Seahawks at Qwest Field in October in what is known as The Collapse, struck again. Bulger to Kevin Curtis for 50 yards. Two plays later, a 1-yard touchdown run for Faulk.

Down 14-3, the Seahawks could have folded. The defense was just trying to regroup and survive, with the Rams having established the ability to throw the ball downfield with success.

But the offense answered the call. The Seahawks took their first drive of the second quarter 84 yards to the end zone, with Hasselbeck going to Engram for 19 yards and a touchdown.

Most of that drive took place without the services of running back Shaun Alexander, who injured his left wrist after a running play.

The Seahawks cut the Rams' lead to 14-13 with the second of Josh Brown's field goals, this one a 30-yard kick with 8:52 left in the third quarter. The Rams answered with yet another long drive, though the Seahawks didn't completely buckle. St. Louis took a 17-13 lead on Jeff Wilkins' 38-yard field goal.

When rain began to fall at Qwest Field for just the second time ever during a game, it was as if the Seahawks were receiving divine intervention. On the first play after the clouds briefly opened up, Hasselbeck found Jackson for a 23-yard touchdown pass.

Seattle led 20-17 in the fourth quarter and had taken the momentum. But it was not to last.

Helped by two illegal-contact calls against the Seahawks, the Rams tied the score with 8:07 to play on another field goal. After a defensive stop, St. Louis gained 31 yards on Bulger's pass in the flat to Shaun McDonald, then scored four plays later on a Bulger pass to Sedro-Woolley native Cameron Cleeland.

The Seahawks got the ball back, needing a touchdown for the tie. They moved the ball efficiently and had all of their timeouts remaining, only to see it all end when Hasselbeck and Engram couldn't connect.

"One of these years, we're going to win a playoff game and take that next step," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.

It won't be this season, despite all of the preseason hype and expectations.

Now come the questions about who will be back next season. It promises to be a busy offseason, with many players being re-signed or becoming free agents.

"It really hurts for me because I gave it all I had," said cornerback Ken Lucas, whose contract is to expire in March. "It feels like a funeral to me because this might be the last time playing with a lot of these guys."

After such a loss, it might feel like a funeral to plenty of Seahawks faithful today, too.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Seahawks in the playoffs
Seattle is now 3-7 in the postseason. The results:
Season Playoff Site Result
1983 AFC wild card Kingdome Seattle 31, Denver 7
AFC divisional Orange Bowl Seattle 27, Miami 20
AFC championship L.A. Coliseum L.A. Raiders 30, Seattle 14
1984 AFC wild card Kingdome Seattle 13, L.A. Raiders 7
AFC wild divisional Orange Bowl Miami 31, Seattle 10
1987 AFC wild card Astrodome Houston 23, Seattle 20*
1988 AFC divisional Riverfront Stadium Cincinnati 21, Seattle 13
1999 AFC wild card Kingdome Miami 20, Seattle 17
2003 NFC wild card Lambeau Field Green Bay 33, Seattle 27*
2004 NFC wild card Qwest Field St. Louis 27, Seattle 20
* Overtime

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