The emotional wave of the playoffs is such that the Rams, after defeating the Seahawks 27-20 on Saturday, could openly discuss a scenario under which they could host the NFC championship game.
These were the same Rams who were ridiculed for their 8-8 regular-season record, for the quirky decisions and personality of their coach, Mike Martz, and for their absurd minus-24 takeaway/giveaway mark.
But those same Rams became the first 8-8 team to win a playoff game, playing just enough defense at key moments and exploiting Seattle's secondary all game.
Their last big offensive play was a 17-yard touchdown pass from Marc Bulger to tight end Cam Cleeland with 2:11 remaining that broke a 20-all tie.
The Rams couldn't celebrate until Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram, on fourth down at the St. Louis 5, dropped a potential tying touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck.
Only then could St. Louis start to forget a season of struggle.
"Adversity makes you stronger," Rams safety Adam Archuleta said. "It was a great learning experience that we've been through this year, and you get to find out about your character and the guys you have."
Second-year receivers Kevin Curtis and Shawn McDonald both are sub-4.4 burners who have been given more and more looks. With Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt still commanding double teams, Curtis ran free down the middle against the Seahawks all game.
"They've proven themselves all year," Bulger said of Curtis and McDonald. "With the physical tools those guys have, it's nice to have Kevin or Shawn on a linebacker or a safety."
The Seahawks battled all game, coming back from a 14-3 first-half deficit on the strength of Hasselbeck (27-of-43, 341 yards, two touchdowns). They took a 20-17 early lead in the fourth quarter, and the 65,397 in attendance could begin to see Seattle's first postseason win since 1984.
But Bulger drove the Rams 60 yards for a tying field goal by Jeff Wilkins with 8:07 left, and after St. Louis' defense held the Seahawks to one first down on the following series (there was only one three-and-out from both teams combined all game), the Rams took over at their 24 with 5:42 remaining.
On third and 2 from his 32, Bulger found McDonald for 31 yards _ the Rams' fifth completion of 20 yards or more. A completion underneath to Curtis for 13 yards gave St. Louis first and 10 at the Seattle 24. After two Marshall Faulk runs, the Rams had another third down at the Seahawks 17. With fellow tight end Brandon Manumaleuna lined up next to him, Cleeland ran a seam route against the Seahawks' zone, and Bulger's pass was on the money.
"It was one of those plays you've been waiting your whole entire life to do," Cleeland said. "You practice that 100,000 times in your yard as a kid, and when you have a chance to do it, you make sure you catch it, that's for sure."
Unfortunately for Seattle (9-8), Engram was unable to do that a few minutes later, ending a 59-yard drive. Even Martz said he assumed the game was going into overtime.