TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There was a moment when the University of Alabama football team looked all but done Saturday night.

Ok, there were a few moments like that, but after Auburn had come back from an early 14-3 hole to pull ahead 26-21 at halftime, things appeared to be more than bleak when senior quarterback Blake Sims threw a bad slant attempt for his third interception of the game.

These weren’t “good” interceptions, as Nick Saban described those in which the quarterback had a quality throw and someone either made a good play or the ball was deflected. These were “bad” interceptions.

Auburn took advantage to score a touchdown to go ahead 33-21 and on the Alabama sideline reserve quarterback Jacob Coker began warming up. The Tigers already had more than 400 yards of total offense and the only thing keeping the game from being a rout was the Crimson Tide defense making four first-half stops in the red zone, resulting in field goals instead of touchdowns.

“We didn’t really think about making a change, but if things kept going the way they were we probably would have given Jake a chance,” Saban said. “But Blake has made a lot of plays for us and I have a lot of confidence in Blake. I really wasn’t anxious to pull the plug on him, I wanted to give him every opportunity as a senior, as a leader of this team, to sort of bring this team back and he certainly did that very well.”

Maybe that was the key moment. Perhaps it came at halftime when Saban called his team’s performance the worst of the season, with junior wide receiver Amari Cooper’s 39-yard touchdown, or senior safety Nick Perry’s interception late in the third quarter,

Whenever it was, no one can question this team’s resiliency or perseverance ever again.

“I couldn’t have thought of a better way to go out,” senior tackle Austin Shepherd said after the dramatic 55-44 victory. “It was a great win.”

It was fitting that this was the Southeastern Conference’s final regular season game of 2014 because it absolutely, positively represented what the toughest division in college football was all about this season, a survival test.

Even though with Ole Miss upsetting Mississippi State earlier to lock up the West for Alabama, it still felt like a championship was on the line and had the emotions to match.

That’s because it was against Auburn, especially after the way last year’s game ended with the “Kick 6” — the dramatic missed field goal that was returned for a touchdown as time expired.

“I can’t lie, everybody thought about last year,” senior linebacker Trey DePriest said. “You’re not supposed to say that, but it was personal.”

Consequently, Alabama played that way. It came out flying, got an early turnover, jumped out to a lead, and then made numerous mistakes while watching Auburn seemingly move the ball at will.

“Sometimes you can misplace your emotion in rivalry games, and our team was as fired up as I’ve ever seen them, but it was misplaced emotion,” Saban said. “You know the game is going to be a tough, physical game and you have to be ready to go play a tough physical game and I don’t think we did that even in the first half.”

Saban described his halftime speech as saying it was gut-check time, and telling the players that he believed in them.

That’s not quite what the players heard.

“Coach came in and told us that we were not doing our job,” sophomore A’Shawn Robinson said. “We took that really personally.”

While he didn’t pull Sims, one move Saban did make was to remove sophomore cornerback Eddie Jackson, who couldn’t keep up with Sammie Coates on his touchdown receptions of 68 and 34 yards. Eventually, the responsibility fell to Bradley Sylve, Alabama’s fastest player, and except for a pair of simultaneous catches the big plays almost vanished.

Meanwhile, Sims overcame the three “bad” interceptions to lead five straight touchdown possessions. He finished 20 of 27 for 312 yards, with four passing scores and a rushing touchdown.

“He’s a game-changer,” senior offensive lineman Austin Shepherd said about Sims.

Cooper and T.J. Yeldon ended up having huge nights, with the wide receiver grabbing 13 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and the junior running back carved out 127 rushing yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.

And just when Auburn seemed to have had enough of them, Alabama plugged in sophomore running back Derrick Henry, who put the game out of reach with a 25-yard touchdown run.

So Nick Marshall completed 27 of 43 passes for a school record 456 yards, including 206 to Coates and 121 to D’haquille Williams … and lost.

The 99 points and 1,169 combined yards of total offense were both Iron Bowl records, and the 44 points for Auburn were the most points Alabama has ever allowed in a win.

Now take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

In November the Crimson Tide won at the nation’s toughest venue (LSU), beat the then-No. 1 team (Mississippi State), and then survived the biggest rivalry game, all in the span of 21 days (Nov. 8-29).

“They were rough,” DePriest said.

That’s why Alabama will be considered the team to beat in the inaugural playoff should it get past Missouri at the Georgia Dome next Saturday. Not only has it endured the most by a wide margin, but there’s also the fact that the last five winners of the Iron Bowl have gone on to play for the national championship.

Alabama took another huge step toward doing that on Saturday.