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Suddenly, the Seahawks' fate seems tied to Marshawn Lynch

RENTON, Wash. -- On Dec. 7, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll addressed the media at the team's practice facility just as he does every Monday during the season.

The team was coming off a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Thomas Rawls had run for 101 yards and gotten in the end zone for the third consecutive week. Carroll talked about the team's turnaround, shutting down Adrian Peterson and the defensive-line rotation.

It took 17 questions before anyone asked about Marshawn Lynch.

At that point, the veteran running back was a bit of an afterthought. Lynch had undergone abdominal surgery, and whether he'd played his final game as a Seahawk was unclear. Really, it didn't seem to matter much. Rawls was on a roll, the offense was clicking, and the team seemed fine without Lynch.

More than three weeks later, the conversation has shifted dramatically. Rawls is out for the season with a broken ankle. And in the Week 16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, running backs Christine Michael and Bryce Brown combined for just 15 yards on 13 carries. Now Carroll is suddenly being peppered with questions about Lynch's possible return.

"I would think he can make it back [for the playoffs]," Carroll said. "That’s what we hear. It’s really up to that day-to-day kind of progression that he’s making."

If this is Lynch's final go-around with the Seahawks, it's playing out exactly how one might expect. He is rehabbing away from the team, in San Francisco, with MMA trainer Tareq Azim. Carroll is relying on reports from Azim and his staff to determine what kind of progress the 29-year-old Lynch is making.

And when Carroll says Lynch is "day-to-day," it seems clear the coach means he's not sure when the running back might show up. It's just another chapter in what has been a unique and fruitful relationship.

"I think we’ve had a long run together," Carroll said. "It’s been a really good relationship of getting through it and helping him be the best he can be and him helping our team be the best we can be. It’s been one that’s a good story for us. He’s been a remarkable football player. So we continue to work with him to make sure that we’re helping him in every way that we can. The language is the same that we would use for any of our guys, and we’re going to keep trying to figure out what’s best for them so that they can be at their best, and that’s exactly what we’re doing."

Asked if he would prefer Lynch to be rehabbing with the team, Carroll said, "Under these circumstances, because he’s always trained with these guys -- I know maybe this seems a little bit hard for you -- but think about it, he’s never been here in the offseason, so he’s always been with these guys when he’s at his best. We think that they understand this phase of his preparation better than we do. And so we’re just going with what we think is best. I’m in total support of what he’s doing. I have no problem with the way this is going. I mean he’s working out all day long basically, and they’re giving him great care and all of that, in a mode that he’s been able to benefit from in the past."

As always, Lynch's teammates have his back. And there's no denying that his return would give the Seahawks a lift -- both in the run game and emotionally.

"It’d mean everything," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "He’s definitely a leader on this team, and you all have seen what he’s done on the football field. So to have him come back here and run for us would be amazing. I feel like when he’s ready, he’ll let us know."

Asked about Lynch rehabbing away from the team, cornerback Richard Sherman said, "Whatever works. Different strokes for different folks. We know when that guy comes in the building and he gets on the field, there’s nobody like him. There’s nobody who’s giving more effort, who’s going to sacrifice more for their team. There’s no question about his loyalty to the team or his work ethic or anything like that. That guy is exactly who we think he is. If he needs to rehab at home, we’re all for it. We know he keeps the team first in his heart, so we have no questions about his intentions or anything."

On the season, Lynch is averaging just 3.76 yards per carry. He's battled a number of injuries and has never been quite right. Carroll said he still is dealing with discomfort from the abdomen injury, and it's entirely possible that even if Lynch does come back, he won't be 100 percent. Maybe he'll need a game to feel right. Or perhaps he'll play a limited number of snaps as part of a rotation.

But with nine or 10 days remaining before the Seahawks play a wild-card playoff game, the team is counting on him, and the sense is he'll play a role one way or another in how far the Seahawks go.

"He’s an unusual player that knows football, he gets the game, he’s really an astute learner," Carroll said. "He’s not a young guy trying to figure this out and we’re uncertain about. If a guy can do it, he can do it."