Something seemed a bit off Friday afternoon when, after the Seattle Seahawks practiced, coach Pete Carroll for the first time all week voiced doubts about running back Marshawn Lynch being able to play in Sunday's playoff meeting with the Minnesota Vikings.
"He’s questionable," Carroll said. "We've got to go tomorrow and make sure he’s OK after today, that same old thing. We just want to see how he’s taking to the week’s work and all of that. He looked good during the week and did some really good stuff, but we’ll just use all of the time that we have available. I have not said yet that he’s playing. I know that’s been out there, but I don’t know until we finish the week. He’s looked really good, and we’re hoping so. Very optimistic."
It appeared that Carroll was just trying to plant some seeds of doubt, a bit of gamesmanship that is common around the NFL. Coaches rarely offer definitive information on injuries until they are forced to do so. But earlier in the day, Carroll had gone on KIRO-FM 97.3 and said Lynch was "going to play."
The veteran running back ended up throwing the team a curveball before the Seahawks got on the bus to begin their journey to Minneapolis. He was a full practice participant all week long, and, according to a source, Lynch did not suffer a setback during Friday's workout. But the Seahawks said that at some point after practice and before they left Seattle, Lynch announced that he "felt like he couldn't play" in Sunday's game.
Translation: This was his decision.
Lynch underwent abdomen surgery Nov. 25. In his first four full seasons with the Seahawks, he missed a total of one game. But he's battled multiple injuries through the 2015 season, appearing in only seven games and averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
Instead of rehabbing at the Seahawks' practice facility, Lynch spent weeks working out in San Francisco with his own team of trainers. Carroll was asked why he felt comfortable with that setup.
"I think we’ve had a long run together," he 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."
Lynch returned to the team facility this week, and all signs pointed to him playing in Minnesota.
On Monday, Carroll said Lynch was "ready to go."
"He wouldn't be here if he didn't feel like he could go, so he's ready to rock," Carroll said.
On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable indicated Lynch would be able to handle a full workload. Teammates talked about how much it would mean to have him back on the field.
"Definitely the fact that we’re getting Marshawn back, who’s been the engine of our offense for a long time here, his personality back in the huddle, definitely excited to have that back," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said.
Now, as the Seahawks aim for a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl, they're left with questions. They've played without Lynch for most of the season and will move forward with Christine Michael (4.9 YPC) and Bryce Brown (2.8 YPC). Veteran Fred Jackson will continue to handle third-down duties.
The forecast in Minnesota calls for a high of 4 degrees Sunday, conditions that are conducive to running the football. But quarterback Russell Wilson will be asked to lift the offense just as he's done all season long.
If the Seahawks win, will they try to get Lynch ready for the divisional round against the Carolina Panthers? Or forge ahead without him? If they lose, will he ever play in a Seahawks uniform again?
Lynch has provided Seahawks fans with many great memories in what has been a remarkable six-year run. But it's never been normal or predictable.
It's possible that Friday's surprise after the team's last practice of the week provided the final chapter.