SEATTLE – The NFC West race might have ended Sunday.

Seattle’s Shaun Alexander romped again, this time for 165 yards on a season-high 33 carries and three touchdowns, and the Seahawks beat the mistake-prone Rams 31-16 at Qwest Field.

The Seahawks (7-2) turned St. Louis’ botched fake field goal attempt in the second quarter into a 24-3 scoring run. They have a three-game division lead on second-place St. Louis, which had won two straight to resuscitate its season. Essentially, that is a four-game bulge with seven regular-season games remaining because Seattle has swept St. Louis after losing the previous four to the Rams (4-5).

Seattle has won five straight overall for the first time since 1999.

Despite many misplays, the Rams closed to 24-16 with exactly 7 minutes left. Quarterback Marc Bulger’s 14-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass through the mist found Torry Holt, playing his first game in four weeks after being sidelined by strained knee ligaments. Bulger was also playing for the first time in four weeks, coming off a strained shoulder.

But then Alexander and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck each converted third-and-1 runs. Seattle ran six straight times, then converted two more first downs before Alexander dashed 17 yards for his third score with 1:12 left.

The game turned decisively with 11:09 remaining in the first half. St. Louis led 3-0 and lined up for a fourth-and-3 play at the Seattle 8. The Rams first tried to draw the Seahawks offside. When that failed, they called timeout, then lined up for Jeff Wilkins’ 25-yard field goal. But holder Dane Looker instead flipped a lateral to Wilkins. The kicker was looking to pass to Cameron Cleeland, who was open near the 5.

But Marcus Trufant, staying home on the right defensive flank, charged at Wilkins and forced him to pull the ball down. His run was far short of the first down.

Instead of a 6-0 Rams lead, Seattle marched 86 yards to take a 7-3 edge. Matt Hasselbeck’s perfectly placed 47-yard pass to reserve receiver D.J. Hackett moved the ball to the St. Louis 6. Alexander ran in for his first touchdown.

Bulger then threw an interception to Seattle’s Michael Boulware when his receiver, Kevin Curtis, slipped. The Seahawks went 78 yards the other way for Josh Brown’s 31-yard field goal 15 seconds before the end of the half.

Seattle outscored St. Louis 24-3 and outgained the Rams 281-46 after the botched fake field goal through the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Bulger finished 28-for-40 with 304 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was frustrated after uncharacteristic misplays by four-time Pro Bowler Holt. In the first quarter, a wide-open Holt appeared to not see Bulger’s accurate 40-yard pass. The ball skidded at Holt’s feet near the 5-yard line.

Then Bulger tried to rally St. Louis from its 24-6 hole late in the third quarter. His precise pass to the back corner of the end zone, where Holt had beaten Seattle’s Kelly Herndon, appeared to go through Holt’s raised hands.

That prompted Bulger to angrily punch the air. Then, after Wilkins’ third field goal ended that drive and left St. Louis behind 24-9, Bulger shook his head in disbelief on the sideline.

AP-ES-11-13-05 1930EST


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