Yes, he did.
Marshawn Lynch did indeed board the bus that took the Seahawks to SeaTac airport on Friday afternoon.
It was the strongest indication yet that Lynch will play — for the first time in more than two months — on Sunday in sixth-seeded Seattle’s NFC divisional playoff game at top-seeded Carolina.
Lynch, the NFL’s leading rusher and touchdown maker from 2011 until this injury-filled season, cleared a Transportation Security Administration-approved check, along with his teammates, inside Seahawks’ headquarters. He was one of the last players to get on board the bus for the short ride to the Delta charter jet and the flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Coach Pete Carroll had said about an hour before the 29-year-old running back got on the bus that Lynch’s “bags are packed.” The coach added with a wry smile that there’s “a really good chance” that Lynch will play Sunday. The Seahawks officially listed him as probable.
Lynch hasn’t played since Nov. 15 against Arizona. He had surgery on Nov. 25 in Philadelphia, then spent all of December in his native Bay Area, rehabilitating with personal trainers away from the Seahawks.
Lynch rejoined the Seahawks last week and practiced fully for all three days. He told the team after the final practice in Renton, just before players got on buses for the trip to the wild-card game at Minnesota, that he would not be able to play.
“He had a great week, he really did. He was faster and more explosive this week than last week,” Carroll said following Friday’s practice. “You can see that he made an improvement.”
Carroll was asked by a Canadian reporter if he knows what to expect from Lynch this weekend.
“Have you been around here very long, with Marshawn and all of that?” Carroll said.
“Not always do we know. He’s somewhat unpredictable in certain ways.”
That’s the understatement of Carroll’s season.
“But he’s really pumped to play football and play with his team,” the coach said. “So I’m looking forward to him playing like he has in the past. We’ll make sure and watch and see how he’s doing, and how much we can play (him).”
Carroll said he feels that Lynch has rediscovered his confidence that he can produce Sunday as he has in the past.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Carroll said. “All indications are (that he’s confident again).”
The coach said that even with Lynch’s return, fill-in Christine Michael will remain a part of the Seahawks’ offense. But it’s obvious that Michael, re-signed in November after Lynch’s injury, goes back to a secondary role.
Michael had 70, tough yards on 21 carries in minus-6 temperature last weekend at Minnesota in Seattle’s 10-9 win.
“He’s going to play a lot,” Carroll said of Michael. “We’re expecting him to be in and out of there regularly.”
Strategy-wise, it’s not as if Carolina has to change everything defensively now that Lynch will (apparently) be playing. The Panthers have faced Lynch five times since 2012.
In six career games, Lynch has five touchdowns and averaged 61.1 yards rushing against Carolina. He had 54 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown on Oct. 18, when Carolina rallied from a 23-14 deficit with 5 minutes left to beat the Seahawks, 27-23, in Seattle.
Don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has quarterback Russell Wilson run more read options with Lynch in the lineup than he has in the last seven games that Lynch has missed. Seattle hasn’t run that scheme almost at all with Michael at running back.
“Obviously, any time you have Marshawn, it’s a great thing. … Nobody really runs like him at all,” said Wilson.
“This game is such a physical game, especially the way he plays. He’s one of a kind.”
The Seahawks had the league’s No. 3 rushing offense in the regular season, even though Lynch played in only seven games because of injuries to his abdomen, hamstring and calf.
Wilson said Seattle’s game plan isn’t changing with Lynch back behind him again.
“No, it doesn’t alter the plan in terms of our plays and stuff, if that’s what you mean,” Wilson said.
“But, obviously, when he’s in there, I definitely think their defense has to really be in tune with, ‘OK, Marshawn’s in the game,’ one of those things.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle