Three weeks ago, Jeremy Lane was unwanted.
The Seahawks had already benched him from two jobs: the starting right-cornerback one, and his nickel spot inside on passing downs. On Oct. 30, they traded him and future draft picks to Houston to get three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown.
Lane went to Houston and took his physical examination. By the time he got from the doctors into Texans headquarters, Houston general manager Rick Smith was telling Lane he had failed that physical.
“I was like, ‘OK … What’s next?’ ”
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“Back to Seattle,” Smith told Lane.
“OK, cool,” Lane responded to the Texans’ GM. “Bye.”
“It wasn’t even 24 hours. It was THE SAME DAY!” Lane says now of his being a Texan then becoming a Seahawk again.
“It was ridiculous.”
Lane braced for the return of an unwanted. The Seahawks had drafted him in 2012, signed him to a four-year, $23 million extension before the 2016 season — then discarded him in a trade. That deal after his failed physical became a different combination of draft picks for Brown.
“When I came in the locker room, I walked in (and) I thought it was going to be awkward at first,” Lane said. “But as soon as I came in, it was full and everyone was like …”
Lane clapped. He was imitating the applause he got from his teammates who made a point to be in the locker room when he returned.
“They started clapping their hands. It was crazy,” Lane said.
“It’s hard to explain. It was crazy, an emotional roller coaster, you know? I had to stay mentally strong for it. Other than that, it worked out.
“Opportunity? It’s a blessing. It’s crazy how things worked out. Me being traded, coming back, and getting the opportunity to start now? I’m excited.”
Yes, it is crazy.
No Richard Sherman.
No Kam Chancellor.
No way in Hades that Lane or the Seahawks (6-3) thought they’d be in this situation for Monday night’s game against reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan, All-Pro receiver Julio Jones and the defending NFC-champion Atlanta Falcons (5-4).
Eventually, yes. That is why Seattle spent four of their first eight draft choices on defensive backs this past spring.
But playing Monday night’s showcase game at CenturyLink Field, a chance to tie the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) atop the NFC West while holding tie-breaking advantages, without Sherman and Chancellor?
That’s an experience this group of Seahawks has never gone through — or ever wanted to realize.
“It’ll be the first of its kind,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “We haven’t been in this territory before.”
The last time the Seahawks did what they are going to do Monday — play a game without Sherman at left cornerback — was Oct. 30, 2011. The week before, Walter Thurmond cracked his fibula during Seattle’s 6-3 loss at Cleveland. Thurmond was the Seahawks’ plan to replace Tacoma’s Marcus Trufant, who had gone on injured reserve that month and was nearing the end of his 10-year career with the team.
Sherman, then a rookie, fifth-round draft choice thought to be too slow to stay without outside receivers, replaced Thurmond. He stayed there for the next 98 consecutive regular-season games plus 12 more in the postseason, including Super Bowls 48 and 49.
He earned three All-Pro selections.
Chancellor has made 105 regular-season and playoff starts since the start of that 2011 season, including both Super Bowls with Sherman. He’s been a four-time Pro Bowl strong safety, and more than that, the soul of the defense and locker room.
Those two teamed with Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner and then Byron Maxwell to form the “Legion of Boom” secondary.
But now it’s become the “Legion of Backups.”
Sherman, 29, is out for the season after surgery last week to repair the ruptured Achilles tendon in his right heel. Chancellor, also 29, is out for at least Monday and probably longer with a “stinger” nerve issue he got in his neck late in last week’s victory at Arizona, one quarter after Sherman got hurt.
Lane will start for Sherman, with Maxwell signed back last week after a failed season and a half with Miami and one in Philadelphia.
It’s now a great thing the Seahawks welcomed back Lane so warmly. They need him.
“You want to make it the least awkward as possible. It’s still your brother,” All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“He came in, we acted like nothing ever happened. Like he was still here. And he was loved.”
Bradley McDougald will start for Chancellor against Atlanta. McDougald, a first-year Seahawk, has started the past two games at free safety while Thomas had a pulled hamstring.
“We trust the guys that we’re going to put out there,” Richard, the defensive coordinator who coached Seattle’s secondary until Feb. 2015,. “These guys battle. They prepare. They prepare as if they’re going to be starters. And it’s the NFL: Everyone is always one play away.
“It behooves you to be prepared.”
For an attack.
In Seattle’s 26-24 win at CenturyLink Field 13 months ago and Atlanta’s 36-20 home victory over the Seahawks in the divisional playoffs in January, the Falcons bunched and criss-crossed Jones and Mohamed Sanu with tight ends Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo. That created confusion and blown coverages in Seattle’s secondary. And that was with Sherman and Chancellor.
Think the Falcons and first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the former University of Washington head coach, might do more crossing and bunching against this Seattle secondary?
“We can’t replace either one of those guys directly,” coach Pete Carroll said of Sherman and Chancellor. “They’ve been here a long time. They’ve done so much, and they stand for so much. Yet, we have guys that have come in.
“The true test is when we come back to play a couple more games and see how’re we doing and see how it all holds together like we want. … We’ll see what happens.
“It’s a fantastic group we’re going against. It’s a great quarterback and great wide receivers, as good as you can get, so we’ll see how this challenges our guys.”
Atlanta won its first three games this season after its crushing meltdown and loss to New England in February’s Super Bowl. Then the Falcons lost three in a row. Their 27-7 victory at home over Dallas last week signaled they might be getting right again.
It also signaled Adrian Clayborn is an issue for Seattle. Atlanta’s edge rusher had six sacks against Cowboys’ second- and third-team left tackles, with starter Tyron Smith out injured.
Brown, entrenched as the Seahawks’ starting left tackle since the trade, is questionable to play because of an ankle injury. Matt Tobin practiced all last week for him at left tackle. He’s only been with Seattle since August, from a trade with Philadelphia.
If Brown’s not able to play, Russell Wilson must be a magician — again — for Seattle to win. Wilson has been the Seahawks’ running game, with a team-leading 290 yards on the ground, 258 from scramble runs on pass calls. He’s also second in the NFL in yards passing per game. Last month in the win over Houston he set the Seahawks record with 452 yards passing.
Carroll vows the Seahawks aren’t abandoning handing the ball off to running backs Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy and Mike Davis (promoted last week off the practice squad).
“We’re going to run the heck out of it,” Carroll said of Monday’s game, and beyond.
Yet it may take more plays like Wilson’s double-spin away from sacks and off-balance throw to Doug Baldwin for 52 yards that clinched last week’s victory at Arizona — plus his six touchdown throws in the red zone to tight end Jimmy Graham the past five games — for the Seahawks offense to keep producing despite the problems with the line and running game.
What is certain: no Seahawk knows how this is going to go without Sherman and Chancellor to defend Ryan, Jones and the Falcons.
“It is,” Richard said, “brand-new territory for us.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
ATLANTA FALCONS (5-4) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-3)
Monday, 5:30 p.m., CenturyLink Field
Line: Seahawks by 1½.
TV: ESPN Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
The series: Atlanta has won four of the past six meetings dating through Dec. 30, 2007 at the Georgia Dome. That includes the Falcons’ 36-20 sprint past Seattle last January in the NFC divisional playoffs in Atlanta. This is the third meeting in 13 months. Atlanta lost in October 2016 at CenturyLink Field 26-24, when Richard Sherman got away with yanking down All-Pro receiver Julio Jones’ arm while breaking up a fourth-down pass on the Falcons’ final offensive play.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Surprise from the “Legion of Backups”: Richard Sherman is out. Kam Chancellor is out. Jeremy Lane and Bradley McDougald are in. And Earl Thomas is coming back from a pulled hamstring that cost him the past two games. The Falcons’ Matt Ryan has thrown for 338 and 335 yards the past two times he’s played Seattle over the past 13 months — and that was with Sherman and Chancellor playing. The Seahawks won’t be having anyone shadow Julio Jones as Sherman did in the previous two meetings. That means Lane, McDougald and nickel back Justin Coleman are going to have be disciplined. And great.
Be in a rush to help those fill-ins: The best way for the Seahawks to help their patchwork secondary is for Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, 2016 Falcon Dwight Freeney and the pass rush to get to Ryan like Seattle has the past two times it’s played him. The Seahawks have seven sacks in the past two meetings with the Falcons. Monday night’s key to success will be not giving Ryan time.
Wilson more MVP-ing: Russell Wilson has gained 82 percent of Seattle’s yards from scrimmage. That’s the most by one player for any team in the league. He’s second in the NFL in passing and leads the Seahawks with 290 yards rushing — 258 of those on scrambles away from pass rushers. Unless the offensive line suddenly starts opening running lanes that have not been there, it’s going to take even more from Wilson to get Seattle where it wants to be in January.
The pick: Seahawks, 27-24. The signs are all over for an Atlanta win: Sherman and Chancellor out against the lethal Ryan and Jones; Duane Brown’s injury at left tackle, with Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn coming off a six-sack game. But Wilson makes more ridiculous plays to steal a Seattle victory.
Really feels like it’s Wilson this, Wilson that or nothing at all for the Seahawks’ offense this season.
Discard last month. Brought back. Now starting, for the injured Sherman. He’s absolutely on the spot now.
Team-high 6½ sacks despite a bad toe, worse plantar fascia in the foot. A big game would save the secondary.
No. NamePos.Ht.Wt. Year
That’s not just rain in Seattle. That’s Jones salivating in his hotel room over facing SEA without Sherman and Chancellor.
Six sacks last weekend vs DAL backup LTs. SEA will have his former college teammate, backup Matt Tobin, at LT if Duane Brown can’t play.
With Devonta Freeman out (concussion), elusive Coleman becomes the lead back—on top of a dangerous receiver.