Monday night in the Hogwarts end zone at the Clink.
Things happen in that place and time that mere Muggles will never understand. But it’s where the Seahawks, wizards of Monday, prevail and opponents fail.
Inside two minutes to go and inches from a touchdown by an airborne WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit’s best athlete, whose completed flight probably would have created the upset of the NFL season, the Seahawks’ best athlete, SS Kam Chancellor, intruded. He ripped the football away as 69,005 fans beseeched the sporting gods for recovery of the tumbling treasure.
Instead, Seahawks LB K.J. Wright gently tapped the ball out of the back of the end zone to create a touchback, a firestorm and a preposterous 13-10 Seattle triumph — in nearly the exact spot that Golden Tate, then of the Seahawks and now of Lions, three years earlier was given a mystery touchdown that the Green Bay Packers swear to this day was a win-saving interception.
“Now that you look at it, we’re fortunate,” coach Pete Carroll said brightly, an understatement measured in megatons. “It’s the way it goes sometimes. Plays happen and calls get made.
“That’s a very, very unique situation.”
Never mind that there’s no such thing as “very” unique. Nor has there been such a play in NFL history. And few but Wright would have thought to bat the ball instead of jump on it — and then escaped punishment by officials who looked right at the crime and missed it.
“You can’t, I guess, knock it out,” Wright said. “But at the time, I wasn’t thinking that. I was just trying to not mess up the game.”
But mess it up he did — although it came to that point gloriously pre-messed by both teams. The Seahawks’ final defensive play, great as it was, will be remembered more as notorious rather than exceptional. Just as with the Tate catch that generated so much contempt toward the replacements for striking officials that the NFL settled with the union a few days later.
No such political drama will follow this outcome. But an apology from the NFL would be in order for the 0-4 Lions and their beleaguered fans.
“To go 90 yards against a defense like that, in an environment like that,” said disconsolate Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford. “Not a lot of teams do that. We had our chances and we didn’t get it done.”
Indeed, the Lions had their chances. Although pounded relentlessly by the Seahawks defense coming off a shutout out the Bears a week earlier, the Lions made no turnovers until Johnson’s fumble, and Stafford endured no sacks. They stayed close enough to seize one mistake and turn the game.
Their 24th-ranked defense exploited Seattle’s inexperienced line by beating C Drew Nowak and LG Justin Britt up the middle, and RT Garry Gilliam and TE Jimmy Graham around the edges.
The last of the insults came with less than nine minutes remaining when QB Russell Wilson was sacked a sixth time, this time by SS James Ihedigbo, the ball going free to Caraun Reid. The 300-pound defensive tackle from Princeton scooped and scored from 27 yards, throwing a thick blanket of hush over the usual rowdy Clink sellout.
“It was a crazy night of football,” Carroll said. The offensive line “was not as good as it needs to be. The protection . . . we didn’t run the ball as well as we wanted.
“Week 2 was our best one, and then we didn’t do as well the last two weeks.”
Again, a massive understatement. The sack total easily would have reached double figures were it any other quarterback than Wilson. He authored an astonishing variety of escapes from pressure. When he dared set his feet, he completed 20 of 26 passes for 287 yards yards and the game’s only offensive touchdown, a 24-yard bullet to WR Doug Baldwin in the second quarter.
“I can’t think of all the crazy scrambles that he made tonight,” Carroll said. “Receivers made the plays, just changed so drastically from what looked like was going to happen to what eventually happened.”
In fact, Seattle’s two biggest offensive plays were total 52-card pickup maneuvers to resourceful WR Jermaine Kearse, one for 34 yards and a second for 50 after the Johnson fumble and touchback. The latter, from a third-and-two at the Seattle 28, clinched the game with 1:34 left because the Lions wouldn’t be getting the ball back.
At least part of the offense’s problems were due to the absence of RB Marshawn Lynch, who missed his first game since 2011 with a sore hamstring. He warmed up in the pregame and was seen running at half-speed, but remained on the inactive list because the Seahawks wanted to save him for next week’s match in Cincinnati against the 4-0 Bengals.
Rookie Thomas Rawls, playing against his home-state team, tried his best, but his 48 yards in 17 carries (with a long of 10) was testament to the fact that he couldn’t take the pressure off Wilson behind the suspect line.
Without Lynch, the Lions game plan targeted Wilson, who has never appeared more vulnerable in a Seahawks uniform. He even had trouble getting good shotgun snaps from Nowak, who’s playing the first center of his life.
“Sometimes these hard lessons help us,” Carroll said. “Maybe we’ll get a little more precise.”
Asked when that might happen, he said, “This week.”
Good luck with that. There’s no Hogwarts end zone in Cincinnati.