Sunday, January 6, 2013
All aboard: Lynch, Seahawks travel well
By Mike Sando
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch powered Seattle's potent rushing attack against Washington.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Marshawn Lynch saved the Seattle Seahawks' season, perhaps, with a one-handed fumble recovery and 20-yard run with the loose ball Sunday. Lynch later cost the Seahawks points by fumbling near the Washington Redskins' goal line. Then, with a trip to the NFC divisional playoff round in the balance, there was Lynch again, powering over the right side for the winning 27-yard touchdown.
The player teammates call "Beast Mode" had his fingerprints all over the Seahawks' 24-14 victory at FedEx Field. Lynch left some deep footprints, too -- standard operating procedure for the most punishing back in the NFL.
The Seahawks will ultimately advance in these playoffs as far as quarterback Russell Wilson can take them, but Lynch is the player divisional-round opponent Atlanta should fear most. The Falcons aren't alone in that regard.
"I've had a few [cornerbacks] this year tell me to block them and don't block the safety if Marshawn is coming around the edge," Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice said. "I won't say any names, but they're definitely a little scared of Marshawn when he comes around the edge, as they should be."
By the time Lynch was finished putting 132 yards and the game-winning touchdown on the Redskins, the fifth-seeded Seahawks had won a road playoff game for the first time since 1983. They had overcome their largest deficit of the season, 14 points. They had set a franchise record for the largest deficit overcome in a postseason game.
"As much momentum as they had, it is a marvelous statement," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We were getting our butt kicked, there was no doubt about that."
The butt-kicking might have continued if Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III hadn't aggravated a knee injury in the first quarter. That was certainly the story of this game from the Redskins' perspective, particularly after Griffin's knee gave out for good in the fourth quarter. Griffin struggled making even basic movements in the pocket as the game progressed. That took pressure off Seattle's defense and turned it on Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who should have removed his franchise player from the game earlier.
The Seahawks had no reason to fear Griffin after the first quarter.
"If you noticed it earlier when we were rushing the passer, everyone was worried about him getting out," Carroll said. "After we saw what he was doing and how he was moving, I tried to encourage the guys to not be worried about breaking containment and running like crazy. It was more like a normal quarterback back there."
Normal quarterbacks have a tough time winning playoff games.
Griffin, sidelined for a Week 15 victory over Cleveland, was far worse than his normal self in this one. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 84 yards. Griffin has now completed 19 of 37 passes for 184 yards in his last two games. He averaged less than 5 yards per attempt, down from 8.3 previously this season.
With Griffin limping, the anticipated duel between dynamic rookie quarterbacks never materialized. Wilson emerged as the lone rookie quarterback remaining in the playoffs after Indianapolis' Andrew Luck joined Griffin on the one-and-done list.
"You saw the difference between a healthy Russell Wilson and Robert not being healthy," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said.
Wilson took five sacks, running his two-game total to 11, but he also combined with Lynch to overwhelm the Redskins' defense with the option runs Seattle unleashed in full during a Week 13 road victory over Chicago. Those runs have added a badly needed dimension to the Seahawks' offense, one that could carry them to a Super Bowl.
Since that Chicago game, Seattle leads the NFL in option running with 61 rushes for 474 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Seahawks turned 11 option runs into 110 yards against the Redskins. That included 27 yards on Lynch's winning run. Wilson, fleet as ever, was out front blocking on the play. Earlier, the Seattle quarterback escaped for a 28-yard dash that changed field position, helping Seattle keep the Redskins' increasingly hampered quarterback pinned deep in his own territory for a critical stretch.
Griffin's injury limited the Redskins to four option runs all game. Griffin averaged a season-low 5.3 yards per attempt on play-action throws.
"You definitely could tell he wasn't 100 percent, especially when he was trying to read the read option," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. "He was still picking up 10 yards, 9 yards, 8 yards. But we were able to take advantage."
Thomas showed his range by racing over to pick off a deep play-action pass from Griffin. The Pro Bowl free safety said film study suggested Griffin frequently locked onto targets. Griffin threw only five interceptions during the regular season, however, so he couldn't have been locking onto receivers too obviously. Of course, the Seahawks could focus more on coverage once they knew Griffin couldn't beat them with his legs.
These were among the reasons Seattle won a road game by double digits despite managing just one touchdown on six red zone possessions.
This was not their best game.
The Redskins held a 129-9 lead in yardage through one quarter. Griffin completed only 5 of 11 passes for 20 yards after aggravating the injury for the first time. Seattle outgained the Redskins by a 371-84 margin over the final three quarters.
Griffin paid a heavy price this season for welcoming contact on his way to becoming the first quarterback since Randall Cunningham in 1990 to finish a regular season with at least 3,000 yards passing and 750 yards rushing. He led the NFL in scrambles (43) and scrambling yards (411) before suffering the knee injury during the regular season.
Wilson welcomed contact a bit too frequently in this game Sunday, but he was much more apt to slide during the regular season.
"I hate to see him take hits -- he's like my little brother," Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said.
The Seahawks need rushing yardage, not carnage, from their quarterback. Lynch is the hammer in this Seahawks offense. ESPN charting showed Lynch with 65 yards after contact, his highest figure in a game this season.
Lynch, as is his custom, avoided contact with reporters after the game, declining interviews in violation of league rules. He was polite about it and amusing, too.
Fighting a frequent cough as he sat on a stool in front of his locker, Lynch was convinced someone had run off with his socks. He pointed a finger toward the man seated at the next locker stall, Robinson. The two are close friends. Lynch has even been known to babysit Robinson's children. And when the socks turned up, Robinson let Lynch have it.
The two bantered back and forth for a while until Lynch made his escape, a freight train bound for Atlanta.