By Bryan Burwell
Sunday, Nov. 13 2005

SEATTLE A year ago, whenever the Rams came into this modern
architectural marvel called Qwest Field, they were in the business of being
rude and rowdy party crashers. They seemed to absolutely relish the physical
and emotional demands of exposing fragile competitive egos and spoiling
premature championship dreams.

Yet as cold and miserable rain came drifting down Sunday through the stadium's
arched, open-air rooftop, the Rams were in no mood to party. Shaun Alexander
practically was dancing into the end zone for his third touchdown of the day to
put the final touches on the Seahawks' 31-16 victory. He was looking up into
that steel-gray November sky, letting the thunderous noise of 67,192 delirious
spectators and that bitter winter drizzle sweep over him as though he was
standing in the midst of a soothing summer shower.

This was a defining moment these crazed Seahawk faithful had been waiting for.
As Alexander glided into the end zone, he soothed the fluttering hearts in the
Pacific Northwest who kept seeing unsettling flashbacks of another
gut-wrenching, fourth-quarter St. Louis comeback. And as Alexander continued
his impressive audition for league MVP, he presented evidence that a seismic
shift has occurred in the power structure of the NFC West. The Seahawks, who in
a previous life played the role of spineless whipping boys in this compelling
competitive drama with their archrival Rams, were now officially the new
bullies on the block.

"It's a really cool thing when you can see the change of the guard, when you're
the new big dog on the scene," said the Seahawks running back, who gained 165
yards rushing and continued his march towards a 2,000-yard season. "Even though
we won the division last year, we didn't feel like we took it from them. We
feel like we almost got it handed to us."

In the game's final moments, there was no doubt who had assumed control of this
division, this rivalry, and this bitter psychological war. Just as the Rams
were on the verge of overcoming a 24-6 deficit, after Marc Bulger dropped a
beautiful touchdown pass into the arms of Torry Holt to cut the Seattle lead to
24-16 with 7 minutes remaining, Alexander and the NFL's top-rated offense took
the field.

In a previous life, this is where bad things usually happened to the Seahawks.
Mike Holmgren would reach into his elaborate playbook and pull out some
mind-numbing play that would kill their momentum. The Seahawks would fumble,
crumble and expose themselves as pretenders to the division throne. The Rams
would cackle at them, shove them in the face and remind them a million times
that they had the competitive spine of sea grass.

But not this time. This time, Seattle did the muscle flexing. "We were
thinking, 'OK, cool, let's go pound them a little more and let them know that
we're the best offense in the NFL,'" Alexander said.

For so long, the Rams always regarded Seattle as totally unworthy to be
mentioned in the same sentence with them regarding supremacy in the NFC West.
The Rams regarded the Seahawks as lightweights, while Seattle regarded the Rams
as arrogant bullies who overstayed their time as the best in the West.

As the Rams dressed in the visitors' locker room Sunday, they couldn't help but
feel like they had blown a wonderful opportunity to continue to mess with the
Seahawks' minds. In spite of wasted redzone opportunities, self-inflicted
penalties, uncharacteristic mistakes, the Rams knew they still could have
beaten Seattle.

"Sometimes you get your butt kicked around, and when you guys come in here,
I'll be the first to tell you it happened," Bulger said. "But you know what?
I'm not sore. I don't feel beat up at all. We let that one get away from us."

If the Rams had just turned one of those three Jeff Wilkins field goals into a
touchdown ... if Torry Holt hadn't lost a sure touchdown in the dark Seattle
sky ... if they hadn't messed around and called a fake field goal ...

If, if, if. The Rams understand the emotional blow they could have delivered
with another comeback. "Oh yeah, exactly," said Holt, flashing a knowing,
regretful smile. But they let opportunity slip by. The nervous tension that
started to creep into the Seahawks' heads in the fourth quarter was replaced by
a bold swagger, as they raced off the field with fists pumping and their feet
barely touching the soggy artificial turf.

Now the 4-5 Rams are three games back with seven games to play. The playoffs
are still a possibility, but barring a minor miracle, the division title is
history. The 7-2 Seahawks, once an emotional wreck whenever they saw the Rams
coming, might be the best team in the NFC, and the Rams have to know they
helped create this monster.

"Now they feel like they can beat us any place, any time," said Holt, still
shaking his head. "They beat us in our place, they beat us in their place. And
that's exactly the way they should feel, because we gave them the advantage."