NFL historians will little note nor long remember what happened Sunday in the Seahawks’ 51-29 victory (box) over the Detroit Lions. It was a no-stakes game played in a partly filled stadium between losing teams with opposing trajectories. And the Detroit Lions were forced to deploy a backup quarterback, which means one thing in the rest of the NFL, but only ratchets up the tension among Seattle fans.
Historians are to free to consign the game to the footnotes. In Seattle, the game was kind of a big deal.
For several aspirants, it was an audition for 2022, which conveniently began about 36 hours before kickoff.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen one of these things. In nearly every season of the Pete Carroll era, late games were fraught with post-season meaning, and played cautiously. But the traditional football constipation was little in evidence Sunday. Freed in the audition from straining, numerous elements prospered.
*Rashaad Penny looked exactly like a first-round running back should: 170 yards rushing in 25 carries, two receptions for 15 yards and two TDs. The Seahawks had 265 yards rushing, a season high, his 144 in the first half a team record.
*DK Metcalf looked like a receiver impossible to defend, garnering three touchdowns in his team-high six receptions.
*Seldom-used Cody Barton, summoned to play middle linebacker after all-star Bobby Wagner went down with a knee sprain on the game’s first play, gave hope to fans who wondered about a potential Seahawks world in which Wagner and his heavy contract were shed in the off-season.
*QB Russell Wilson and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron finally lashed together plan and execution to produce the most points in a Seahawks game since 2012, with 497 yards of offense, almost 34 minutes of possession, no turnovers and conversion of eight of 13 third/fourth downs. Took nearly a whole season, but there it was.
Finally, the Seahawks coach, bobbing on an unfamiliar sea of December irrelevance, found land.
“We talked (in practice week) about that we have two playoff games (Lions, and Cardinals next week) like our NFC Championship game, and trying to get to the Super Bowl in Arizona, kind of a thing,” Carroll said. “We had some fun with it, used our imagination. I don’t know how serious they took it. But I was scrambling.
“Thrilled to see them respond like that. But mostly because they had so much fun today. They were really jacked
It’s easy to dismiss any conclusions about this game because the Lions are 2-13-1. But the Lions Dec. 19 beat the Cardinals, with a healthy Kyler Murray at quarterback, 30-12. Sunday, the Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys 25-22, and next Sunday host the Seahawks in the regular-season finale.
It’s true that transitive property theorem often doesn’t work in the NFL. But remember, a week earlier the Seahawks had “maybe the most disappointing loss we’ve ever had,” according to Carroll. in falling to the woebegone Bears, 25-24 on the same field.
So Carroll played to his strength: Finding ways to reach a player’s best. Just in case his boss, Jody Allen, was hearing he was too old to have game.
He was enabled by Penny, who through four games as the primary back, has 463 rushing yards (7.6 yards per carry) and five TDs.
“Someone asked me during the week, what does Penny have to do to?” Carroll said. “He’s just got to go play again. That’s all we have to do, is get him back out there again. He looked great again today. It’s a big boost. You can see the rhythm it gives our offense.”
What he meant was the Seahawks rushed 41 times and passed 29 times. The balance helped Wilson create a four-touchdown game of magnum efficiency: A single small sack, and 20 of 29 passing for 236 yards, including a 58-yard catch-and-run bomb to Freddie Swain.
“That’s what we were working towards,” Carroll said. “And when you play like that, you can play great football. We’ve done it for a lot of years. When we’re really at our very best, we’re at our most balanced.
“That’s maybe hard to get excited about, or whatever, which I don’t care whether you do or not. That’s a great way to play this game. It suits everything. Look at all the (play-action) passes we got to run today, how that all fit together and made it hard on the opponent. It’s great ball. Shane had a great day today and called it beautifully.”
The other feature in Wilson’s game was the run : Six carries for 24 yards, including 17-yarder that missed a TD by a yard, and a successful sneak on a fourth-and-1 the helped create a score.
One of the elements missing from Wilson’s injury-interrupted year was his burst from the pocket that would drive defenses nuts. He’ll never admit it, but the shock of missing his first games to injury caused some hesitation, as it does to anyone who’s ever done rehab.
Sunday, after two incompletions, he put on a modified glove on his throwing hand. To protect against the rain, he said.
I’ve practiced with it before, never really done it in a game,” he said. “I don’t think I needed it, but the first or second quarter, it was raining pretty consistently.”
Be it weather or a psychological crutch, it seemed to help. He ran hard and smart, proving to himself and the world that his legs, at 33, are still big assets.
Wilson too is auditioning.
He indicated Thursday that his future with the Seahawks may be uncertain, which was taken to mean the Lions may have been his last home opponent in a Seattle uniform. As a partial result, the fan mob that awaited him above the Seahawks tunnel was much deeper than usual.
Many changes are in store for a 6-10 team that was built for Super Bowl contention, but Wilson’s fate is a major national sports story.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “You can’t put me in a bad mood. I’m full of joy. I’m full of gratefulness. I’m full of just being blessed, man. So I’m not going to waver off of that. I thought the guys played great. To feel good, and to be out there again for our fans and what we were able to do today, it was really special.”
Does that means he will be in Seattle?
“Like I said earlier, I hope so,” he said. “I hope that’s the case. I take one day at a time. Today is really about our team.”
If it was his farewell game, the audition was also a return to the bygone days. Which was the plan, executed well.