The temptation was to view the game at Houston as the calm between two NFC West storms. And the 33-13 victory (box) over the woebegone Texans (2-11) doesn’t discourage that assessment. But the view fails to give credence to notable progress Sunday that portends optimism for the Seahawks in the game of the season Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams.
“We’ve been waiting for a little juice from the run game and it was really there today in a big way,” said coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks received a jolt as if they plugged directly into Grand Coulee Dam.
Following 146 ground yards the previous week against San Francisco, the Seahawks had 193 against Houston. RB Rashaad Penny, poster child for weak drafts by GM John Schneider, was credited for 137 yards, including touchdown runs of 47 and 32 yards.
True, the Texans have the league’s worst rush defense. But Penny has been for most of his four NFL years among the league-worst first-round draft picks. In fact, that is the sort of remark, specifically on social media, that used to drive Penny to profound distraction.
One game doesn’t make a career. But it does make Penny a threat next week. For one big reason.
“I’m just thankful I came out of this game injury-free,” he said, beaming.
If Penny makes it through the week of practice, the Rams defense finally will have to contend with a balanced Seattle attack that isn’t wholly dependent on the weekly card-up-the-sleeve trick from Russell Wilson.
Combined with a second consecutive second-half shutout by the defense, the Seahawks appear to be rounding into the kind of December team that has been a hallmark of Carroll’s tenure.
“Yeah, they’ve been hearing it,” Carroll said about the holiday tradition. “This has always been a build-up to the finish, and the mentality that it takes. I think they responded in a big way this week.”
Not that a good result against the 8-4 Rams, who play 10-2 Arizona on Monday Night Football, necessarily will be a difference-maker. The season’s first two-game win streak makes the Seahawks merely 5-8, meaning the odds of making playoffs remain small, particularly given the tiebreakers that work against them. But beating the nemesis on the road would figure to be of profound buoyancy to the collective franchise psyche as the season winds down.
Kind of like the bounce the Seahawks received from the 16 carries of Penny.
“So happy to see that. We’ve been waiting,” Carroll said. “Thrilled to see that he really got loose. You can see the explosion and the playmaking that he’s got. It was on full display today.
“Right off the bat we saw him and said, ‘Let’s stay with him and see how far we could really just ride him through it.”
Penny, who never had an injury at San Diego State and led the NCAA is rushing his senior year, was in just his 33rd pro game, thanks to a slew of health travails. Over four years, he had just 901 career rushing yards before succeeding the injured Chris Carson, Alex Collins and Adrian Peterson with his career-best performance.
“Some days were like, do you want to continue to play football, and other days where you’d be like, I got to go in and do the best for me,” he said of churning through the health ordeal. “It has been hard — hamstring strains, calf strains . . . “
The hardest part, he admitted, was the injury to his confidence delivered on social media.
“My first two years, social media was the biggest problem,” he said. “I always focused about what other people thought about me. I started realizing, half the people really don’t know who I am. Don’t know what I do with my day. Don’t know what I think about.
“(Comments) can be the worst things possible. It can tear somebody down. That’s what it did to me. But now, I’m just, like, numb to it. It’s like you don’t care about it no more, because that’s not who you are.”
Late in the first quarter, Penny, behind a line that included undrafted rookie Jake Curhan at right tackle, finished a drive that began at the Seattle 3-yard line with the 32-yard burst to put Seattle up 10-3. In the fourth quarter, Seattle up 27-13 and following the defense forcing a turnover on downs, Penny blasted 47 yards for a score to complete a late rout.
“We all felt great for him,” said Wilson, who finished 17 of 28 for 260 yards and touchdown passes of 55 yards to WR Tyler Lockett and one yard to TE Gerald Everett. “What was also great, was watching our offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage, in the run game and pass game.”
In contrast to the previous game, a 30-23 win over San Francisco, when he was sacked four times for 50 yards, Wilson was upright most of the day. Lockett was the primary beneficiary, catching five balls for 142 yards, plus a two-point conversion pass that had the day’s highest degree of difficulty — Lockett running right, at the back of the end zone, and Wilson running left, firing a laser through a tight window that may have been uncatchable by only by Lockett or eagle talons.
“I definitely knew that it was a small window that he had to throw it into,” said Lockett, whose 1,023 receiving yards makes him the only Seahawk other than Steve Largent to top 1,000 yards three seasons in a row. “I knew there was a reaction that had to be there, because otherwise, if I didn’t move out the way, me and (TE Will Dissly) would have ran into each other.”
In any other season of the Wilson decade, such a win would be a ho-hummer. But any pretense to such hubris is weeks gone from the Seahawks. This one was made relevant by the fact that a high Schneider draft pick paid off.
Juice is here for the holidays.