After four seasons, after his original team gave him away, a second club cut him and then a third team discarded him — from its practice squad — Christine Michael earned this souvenir.
A game ball was on the padded bench of the reborn running back’s locker. This was moments after his 106 yards rushing and first two NFL touchdowns had sparked the Seahawks’ rout of San Francisco this past Sunday.
But the ball wasn’t his.
“This isn’t it,” Michael said of the football he carried for his first career score.
He picked up the locker one and inspected it.
“No, this isn’t it. This is for Jon Ryan!” Michael blurted out, incredulously.
“I don’t even know how Jon Ryan’s ball ended up in my locker.”
The latest rushing star having the punter’s game ball in his locker? That exactly fits Seattle’s running game so far this season.
Entering Sunday’s game at the New York Jets (1-2), little has gone according to plan for the Seahawks’ offense. Seattle (2-1) has finished in the top four in the NFL in rushing in each of the past four seasons. But it began this season running mostly to nowhere.
“The first two weeks didn’t feel like we came out of the chutes the way we wanted to,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The Seahawks romped for 127 yards rushing and 37 points against San Francisco, after averaging 89.5 yards on the ground through the first two games.
Michael wasn’t supposed to be doing this. And not just because the Seahawks traded their failed 2013 second-round pick to Dallas a year ago for the equivalent of a bag of kicking tees.
Thomas Rawls is the replacement for retired Marshawn Lynch as the Seahawks’ featured running back. He broke his ankle Dec. 13 of last season but returned for this season’s final exhibition game Sept. against the Raiders. Rawls eased into the regular season in the season-opening win over Miami. Then during Week 2 in a loss at the Los Angeles Rams, Rawls, who led the league in yards per carry as an undrafted rookie, had seven carries for minus-7 yards.
In the first half against the Rams, Rawls was kicked near his shin, which cracked his fibula bone. He will miss a few weeks Carroll said on Monday.
Seattle drafted C.J. Prosise in the third round this spring to be its new, third-down back. The plan was for the former wide receiver at Notre Dame to catch passes. But after just nine plays in the opening game, Prosise cracked a bone in his right hand. He hasn’t played since, though Carroll thinks Prosise will be available this weekend at the Jets.
Rawls shouted through the locker room the day the Seahawks brought back 285-pound Will Tukuafu to block at fullback: “Oh, my God!” Rawls exclaimed. “… He breaks three or four face masks per game!”
But the Seahawks have since released Tukuafu and they have no true fullback remaining on the roster. Tight end Luke Willson lined up in the fullback position against San Francisco, and Carroll said that could happen again this Sunday.
“(Willson) was comfortable with it. He’s really pumped up about anything that he gets to do to add to the team, so he was excited about the chance and he looked pretty comfortable,” the coach said. “He’ll definitely improve in the next couple weeks.
“It’s a really good role for him and it makes us a little versatile in that substitution. That’s a good, positive thing for us.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson has been a key to Seattle’s running game for four years. From his rookie season of 2012 through last season, Wilson’s 2,430 career yards rushing made up 25 percent of the Seahawks’ rushing offense over that span.
This season, Wilson sprained his right ankle in the season opener. Against the 49ers, he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He’s planning to play on Sunday, but has just 33 of Seattle’s 306 yards rushing this season. That’s just 11 percent of the team’s running game.
An expected vanguard to Seattle’s rushing attack has yet to play this regular season. Rookie first-round pick Germain Ifedi is the starting right guard. The Seahawks expect him to make his NFL debut Sunday in New York. He missed the first three games with a high-ankle sprain.
Add to all that the fact the offensive line has new starters in three other positions besides Ifedi’s, and Michael is indeed the unexpected lead in Seattle’s unscripted rushing act.
Yet — for one game on Sunday, anyway — it worked. The offensive line crashed down upon the 49ers defenders. Michael rushed for 82 of his yards in the first half and both his touchdowns. He cut once left behind blocks inside by left tackle Bradley Sowell and left guard Mark Glowinski and outside by undrafted rookie wide receiver Tanner McEvoy for a 41-yard touchdown on the game’s third play. That set up Wilson’s passing game, with a career-high 164 yards receiving from Doug Baldwin. And Seattle ran away from San Francisco early.
It looked and felt like Seahawks football under Carroll for the first time this season — even without the expected cast.
“We wanted to get our running game going,” Baldwin said, “because that’s where everything starts from.”
With Wilson rehabilitating both the sprained ankle and knee this week, the Seahawks will need to run first and often again on Sunday against the Jets and their rugged defensive line.
“This is a great offense when the run game is going,” Michael said after his breakout day against San Francisco.
“We’ve just got to keep it going. We play our best when we are able to run the ball. It opens up so much stuff: play action, deep balls down the field.”
Even with Wilson hobbled, Carroll is trying to use the stampede of the 49ers as a restart to Seattle’s offense — and season.
“It put us back in the feeling of how we play,” the coach said. “That game was much more reminiscent of the style that we want to play. We play off of the run game and all of that. That was the big battle cry for the week: Let’s get back to the formula that we like and the way we like to play it. It just hadn’t felt like that in the first two weeks. It’s good to see it and it’s a good step forward.
“Hopefully, we can keep going.”
The Seahawks brought back rookie seventh-round pick Zac Brooks, signing the running back from Clemson to the practice squad. They also signed 6-foot-5, 335-pound guard Robert Myers to the practice squad. Myers was a fifth-round pick by Baltimore in 2015 and was on the Ravens’ practice squad before signing with Denver in December. … The Seahawks released wide receiver Antwan Goodley from the practice squad.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Seahawks’ next opponent
NEW YORK JETS (1-2)
10 a.m. Sunday, Met Life Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Line: Seahawks by 1 1/2.
Against the Seahawks: The Jets trail the series against their former AFC foe 10-8. New York has lost the past two meetings, each in Seattle in 2008 and 2012. New York’s previous win in the series was the last time it hosted the Seahawks in the Meadowlands, December 19, 2004. Seahawks receiver Jerry Rice the final touchdown pass of his career from Matt Hasselbeck in the Jets’ 37-14 win.
What to know: The Jets are 1-2 because quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions in a 24-3 loss at Kansas City on Sunday. He became the first to throw six picks with zero touchdown passes in a game since 1989, when Tom Tupa did it with the Phoenix Cardinals. The Chiefs dropped three more would-be interceptions thrown by Fitzpatrick in the game. … The Jets have the second-lowest rate of getting sacked so far this season. … New York had eight turnovers at KC. One was a lost fumble on a kickoff the Chiefs returned for a touchdown for a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter. … New York is last in the league in turnover margin (minus-7). … Todd Bowles, Arizona’s former defensive coordinator, is 11-8 as New York’s head coach. … The Jets were 10-6 last season and missed making the playoffs by one score in a late loss at Buffalo. … On Tuesday the Jets claimed former Washington Huskies TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins off waivers from Tampa Bay. … The Seahawks will need to get the Jets’ offense off the field. New York leads the AFC and is third in the NFL this season in third-down conversions at a 48.7-percent success rate. … New York media is roasting the Jets for calling 11 passes and just two runs in the red zone at Kansas City. The Jets were 0 for 4 scoring in the red zone against the Chiefs. The league’s No. 1 red-zone team in 2015-16 is just 5 for 11 so far this season. … Seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is getting burned so far this season. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton targeted Revis 10 times in the opener — and completed all 10 of those passes in the Bengals’ win. Bengals receiver A.J. Green had 150 yards receiving. The following week Buffalo’s former Olympic-level track sprinter Marquis Goodwin blew past Revis for an 84-yard touchdown catch and run. Last week tight end Travis Kelce beat Revis for catches. … Seattle wants to run first and often again Sunday. But led by rugged tackle Sheldon Richardson, the Jets’ defensive front has been nasty against the run. New York is allowing 71.7 yards on the ground per game, tops in the AFC and third in the NFL. … The Jets are allowing 26 points per game this season, 20th in the NFL. Seattle is allowing 12 points per game, second to Philadelphia’s 9.
Gregg Bell: firstname.lastname@example.org