In the Kingdome, where the natives like to raise the roof, the Rams’ defense and Eric Dickerson reduced the normally incredible decibel level to the sound of silence Monday night with a 35-24 upset victory over the Seahawks.
Weren’t the Seahawks (2-1) nominated to Super Bowl XX before this season? Well, then, how about the Rams, who after three weeks stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Chicago Bears as the only two unbeaten teams in the National Football League?
The Rams never trailed. Dickerson, opening his season two games late, ran 31 times for 150 yards--typically, 107 in the second half when the Rams needed it most--and scored three touchdowns, all of which can’t hurt his contract negotiations.
Dieter Brock, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 203 yards on the night, passed 19 yards to Bobby Duckworth for a score, and Johnnie Johnson returned his second interception 27 yards for the Rams’ other touchdown.
But it was the Rams’ slam-bang style of defense that took the Seahawks out of character, producing Seattle’s first five turnovers of the season. Those included the first two interceptions thrown by Dave Krieg, the league’s top-ranked quarterback.
Krieg, who was 23 of 45 for 267 yards, was sacked seven times by the team that lacked a pass rush last season. Doug Reed, the left end who has replaced Jack Youngblood, found the shoes a nice fit with three sacks. Gary Jeter had two and end Reggie Doss and linebacker Mike Wilcher one each.
Wilcher, who led with 10 tackles, took over at right linebacker when George Andrews was lost with a knee injury. He once played behind the Giants’ All-Pro, Lawrence Taylor, at North Carolina. Now he is playing like Taylor.
The Seahawks scored their first touchdown when Brock threw the first of his three interceptions to cornerback Dave Brown, who returned it 28 yards for a 7-7 tie.
Their other two touchdowns came after Ram defenders had their hands on the ball. The first was a fumble by Krieg that safety Vince Newsome tried to scoop up before Krieg grabbed it on a bounce and tossed to Danny Greene in the end zone. The play officially covered three yards although they ran all over trying to pick up the loose football.
“Strangest play I ever saw,” Ram Coach John Robinson said.
That brought the Seahawks back to 21-17 with 6:48 to play.
“What I liked,” Robinson added, “was that a minute later we were down at the other end in the end zone.”
That’s because on the Rams’ next play from scrimmage, Dickerson broke loose outside for 43 yards to the Seahawk 37-yard line. Brock, after taking a five-yard delay penalty in the noise, fired a quick 12-yard shot to rookie Mike Young on third down, then Dickerson burst for 9 and 15 yards against the sagging Seahawk defense.
Robinson would call that title tenacity.
“We’re just like Rocky Marciano,” he said. “Get us in the 14th or 15th round, and we’ll just pound on you.”
The Seahawks’ last touchdown came with 28 seconds remaining. Backup quarterback Gale Gilbert, mopping up for Krieg, hurled a 37-yard bomb into the end zone that Ram cornerback Gary Green tipped into the hands of Daryl Turner for his sixth touchdown catch.
Unfortunately, there was hardly anyone left to cheer the meaningless score. Most of the sellout crowd of 63,292 had already gone home. Quietly.
A few minutes earlier, when the Seahawks were trying to break out of their end of the field, Green pulled the ball loose from receiver Byron Walker as he was about to lateral to Dan Doornink. The ball hit the ground, and linebacker Jim Collins recovered.
The Rams seemed to be going in for an insurance touchdown when Dickerson, in top form now, ran for 22 yards on four plays before Charlie White came in to give him a breather--and fumbled the ball away, the Rams’ fifth turnover.
Earlier, the Rams drove 65 yards to take a 7-0 lead after 12:28 of the first quarter. The big plays were Brock’s 23-yard pass to Duckworth, who was starting in place of the ailing Ron Brown, and a 33-yard gainer on a dumpoff throw to Dickerson over the middle. Dickerson caught the ball over his left shoulder at the 30, wheeled down the left sideline and lunged to the two-yard line when the defense cut him off.
Brown and linebacker Keith Butler burst through to drop Dickerson for a two-yard loss, and Brock’s play fake to Dickerson before passing to tight end Mike Barber in the left flat didn’t fool safety Ken Easley, who knocked the ball down at the goal line.
The Rams then tried to power Dickerson around right end, and he stretched out to spot the ball three inches short--fourth down.
Robinson, apparently unwilling to concede the Seahawks a morale-building goal-line stand, ordered Dickerson to ram it over left tackle behind Kent Hill and Bill Bain. He did.
The Seahawks netted only eight yards total offense in the first quarter, reminiscent of the Kingdome game six years earlier when the Rams held them to a league record minus-seven.
Krieg was sacked five times in the first half, equaling his previous season total, but the Seahawks’ defense got them even midway into the second quarter.
The Rams were in a third-down hole at their own 21 after Henry Ellard let Jim Colquitt’s punt roll to 55 yards. Brock looked for Duckworth but was pressured by end Jacob Green as he threw. The ball missed Duckworth, Brown stepped in front and ran it 28 yards untouched for a 7-7 tie.
The second half opened with a bizarre series of plays that produced two Ram touchdowns within 17 seconds for a 21-7 lead.
Brock’s 42-yard pass to Duckworth (four receptions for 98 yards) with a 15-yard penalty for roughness tacked on reached the Seattle 21 on the Rams’ first possession. Two plays later, Duckworth gave Brown an inside move and cut to the left side of the end zone to take Brock’s pass all alone.
Randall Morris dropped the ensuing kickoff and, after a scramble when Seahawks Eric Lane and Greene both had chances to recover the ball, Mark Jerue fell on it for the Rams at the two.
On first down, Dickerson rammed over right tackle.
Curt Warner was running for a first down on Seattle’s next series when linebacker Carl Ekern stripped the ball out for Doss to recover at the Seahawks’ 37. Brock passed 19 yards to Ellard, but then the fortunes quickly reversed.
On successive plays, Dickerson was stopped for no gain, Brock was penalized 10 yards for intentionally grounding the ball and Dickerson fumbled the ball away when the Rams ran him on third and 20, just hoping to preserve a field goal opportunity.
By then the Rams had changed their defense to a semi-prevent, laying off the blitzes and permitting Krieg to pass underneath the coverage to his backs and tight end Charle Young, a former Ram.
That forced the Seahawks to consume precious time moving the ball downfield, and the clock was on the Rams’ side.
Norm Johnson’s 26-yard field goal made it 21-10, and that was the first time in nine chances the Seahawks had failed to score a touchdown after penetrating the opponents’ 20-yard line.
The fourth-down, now-you-have it-now you-don’t touchdown that made it 21-17 only seemed to rile rather than rattle the Rams. Dickerson, with only one week of practice, ran like a man possessed until the game was put put of reach.
Robinson called that “a sign of true greatness in a running back.”
Dickerson said: “That was one of my better games. I felt very good considering how much I had practiced. Make no mistake, we played a very tough team tonight, but I knew we’ll get the big runs eventually. That’s the way our offense works.”
Dickerson and center Doug Smith, who played despite being ill, received game balls, along with the entire defense.
Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox, 1-1 against his former team, said: “They came in here and just whipped us. We couldn’t get the running game going. They put pressure on our quarterback. We got outplayed and outcoached.”
Warner rushed 13 times for only 32 yards (2.5 average). Steve Largent, Krieg’s favorite target in the clutch, caught six passes for 88 yards until Wilcher’s tackle knocked him out of the game with a knee injury.
The noise twice caused the 30-second clock to run out on Brock.
“I’ve played in domed stadiums before,” he said, “but the noise here was unreal. There’s no question that Eric can do something great each time he gets the ball.”
Robinson said: “Strangest damn game I ever saw.”
And strangely silent at the finish.