The chaotic Seahawks sideline in the third quarter Sunday looked like a weigh-in for a heavyweight fight: Stares, shouts and shoves. It was one thrown metal chair away from leading the evening news.
But after the 26-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons, coach Pete Carroll Monday managed to call the blowup CB Richard Sherman had with coaches and teammates a “thrilling moment” unique in his long coaching career.
Had the Falcons reversed the outcome, which they nearly did but for an uncalled pass interference penalty on Sherman on Atlanta’s final play, Sherman’s fury would have had a storm nickname and be identified as a team-wrecker (“Atlanta burns Sherman! Shermanator destroys Seahawks! Richard the Cryin’-hearted!”).
Instead, the victory mushed it down to merely a teachable moment.
“What I told the guys today was there’s going to always be things that happen and we’re going to learn if we can,” Carroll said Monday at team headquarters. “We get smarter and more aware. We’re going to get better. It wound up being an extraordinary positive for our team; we could hang through the rigors and the challenges against a terrific team and find a way to win a football game.”
Sherman’s capacity for rage is hardly unknown; the post-game tirade he unleashed against 49ers WR Michael Crabtree after the Seahawks’ NFC Championship in 2014 is an episode etched in two industries: sports and TV.
But when a tantrum was directed at defensive coordinator Kris Richard and his teammates, who helped mess the coverage that led to a 36-yard touchdown reception for WR Julio Jones, Sherman lit a dumpster fire in Shangri-La.
The day after, Carroll diagnosed Sherman’s response as an over-reaction to a breakdown that undercut the high expectations the defense, and Sherman himself, have had for him lately.
In back-to-back games, Sherman has drawn two of the game’s best wide receivers, Jones and the Jets’ Brandon Marshall. The Seahawks’ prideful run of four consecutive years of fewest points allowed was in jeopardy, not to mention Sherman’s national reputation as Mr. Shutdown.
“There’s been a lot of focus on Richard, a lot of attention, a lot of build-up, and he’s human too,” Carroll said. “He was keyed up and he wanted to do great. He wanted us to do great. He wanted to do his part in all of that. That’s just the response that happened.”
Sherman apparently was still in man-to-man coverage when the rest of the pass defense played zone. The communication failure was due in part to the injury absence of SS Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks’ field marshal. His replacement, Kelcie McCray, isn’t yet versed in the nuances.
“We should have zoned the thing off and made it easy, but just didn’t do it right,” Carroll said on his Monday morning radio show on 710 ESPN. “There’s something to be said, and I don’t mind saying this: Kam commands everybody’s direction out there. It’s hard (for a substitute) to fulfill that role.
“Kelcie does a great job, he’s a terrific player. It’s not that he did anything wrong. It’s just that something that someone (Sherman) was depending on, didn’t show up.”
But was that a sufficient reason for Sherman to publicly confront his boss, Richard, and cause a potentially decisive disruption? Sherman’s demeanor the rest of the game, on the bench and on the field, suggested a lingering pout, no matter how eager Carroll and teammates were to dismiss consequences.
“He went over the top,” Carroll said, “but what was fantastic was the way our guys took care of him. They were best suited to make sure to get him right, and we got back. It took us a while.”
Teammates circled Sherman and began hopping and chanting, hoping to reel him back, but Sherman seemed unresponsive. Carroll said on the radio that he attempted to intercede but was rebuffed:
“I went over once and he said, ‘I’m not ready yet to talk yet.’ I said, ‘I gotcha.’ I knew he’ll get back in balance in time. It’s a crazy moment and a good story.”
Carroll said since it’s an emotional game, he’s not worried about outbursts spoiling his much-cultivated esprit de corps.
“I really like living on the edge with these guys, and dwelling there,” he said. “We try to find how far we can go, how far we can take it. And pull out everything we have to offer, and still maintain poise that allows you to play like you’re capable. It’s a fine line.
“We’ve been together a long time and are willing to take on these expectations. Sometimes it can grab you and pull you in the wrong direction. That’s the discipline I’m talking about — staying focused week to week, play to play, being who you are no matter what’s going on around you.
“We’re pretty frickin’ good at it.”
No one dwells on the edge better than the Seahawks. Hey, they managed to get five splendid years out of Marshawn Lynch, the most anti-authority star in the NFL.
But the edge is cold and dangerous. Proof of that may have been dodged by one pass-interference penalty uncalled.