Doug Baldwin sat deep in his locker. An entire room full of teammates was in front of him. And that room was bumpin’.
Wearing a white Seahawks undershirt over his game pants, the Pro Bowl wide receiver pushed back deeper into his wooden cubicle in the visitors’ locker room at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. Teammates danced around him and chanted to the bass-packed rap music that were blaring even more loudly than usual in a Seahawks locker room that often looks and sounds like a frat party.
An especially rollicking scene had just ended in front of Baldwin. Russell Wilson, Frank Clark, J.R. Sweezy—a cross-section of the roster, smaller, receiver types mixed with massive linemen—jumped up and down and chanted and playfully banged into each other in semi-step with the wall-shaking beat of the bass.
Even 67-year-old coach Pete Carroll was dancing.
“I probably had a little somethin’, somethin’,” Carroll told Seattle’s KIRO-AM on his weekly radio show Monday morning.
The surging Seahawks were absolutely off the hook.
I was standing maybe 18 inches from Baldwin on Sunday afternoon moments after Seattle rallied past the Carolina Panthers for a huge, 30-27 victory, one that puts the Seahawks on a direct path back to the postseason. And I couldn’t hear what Baldwin was saying.
Baldwin, 30, just smiled. The eighth-year veteran, the longest-tenured player on the offense, looked like a proud father watching his kids celebrate their latest accomplishment.
“This sport is hard, and we’ve been through so much this year,” he said. “The most important part for our guys was, the secret, was to have fun.
“There are so many things that we don’t control. So when we get our opportunities, we are having fun and demonstrating that.”
Then a teammate near him shouted “WHOOOO!”
The tumult of their spring and summer, when most of their veteran, championship core departed or were sent away, has spawned the new Seahawks of autumn. These younger, newer guys have resolve, energy and, especially right now, riotous fun.
That was the aftermath of Seattle’s second remarkable rally to win in as many weeks. First, it was storming back from getting booed early in the game at home to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Then Sunday, it was struggling on offense early—again—allowing Cam Newton and the Panthers to ransack them for 476 yards, then rallying from being down twice in the final quarter to win on Sebastian Janikowski’s final-play field goal.
“We made some big plays when we needed to,” Baldwin said. “We had some mishaps in the first half…”
Baldwin shrugged and said, “typical.
“But when the game’s on the line, for whatever reason, we make plays.
“This team has been resilient the entire year. When we’ve gotten our opportunities to show who we are we’ve been able to show that. This is no different.”
Thing is, this isn’t Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril showing the resiliency and poise under pressure late in games. Seattle’s Super Bowl core of proven, championship veterans is long gone, following the team’s offseason of upheaval then Thomas’ summer and fall of a holdout then season-ending broken leg.
Newer, younger Seahawks are pulling off dramatic comebacks to defeat Rodgers and Newton in the heat of a crowded playoff race in which Seattle has seized an inside track.
When the Seahawks traded Bennett, their Pro Bowl defensive end, to Philadelphia and released All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in March, Carroll said: “Sometimes guys can’t hang with what’s expected.”
These new, young Seahawks (6-5) are more than hanging right now.
After an 0-2 start and doubts at 4-5 after this month’s narrow loss at the Rams, they control their playoff fate. They are a 1/2 game behind Minnesota (6-4-1) for the fifth of six playoff seeds in the NFC. They play the Vikings in Seattle on Dec. 10, after Sunday’s home game against San Francisco (2-9).
Four of Seattle’s final five games are at home. The lone road game is Dec. 16 at the 49ers.
The Seahawks are dancing into December on the field, too. Baldwin, Lockett and the wide receivers have performed an ongoing series of skits in the end zone after each of their touchdowns all season. Sunday, after Lockett caught a TD pass from Wilson in the third quarter to give Seattle its first lead at Carolina, 17-13, the receivers acted a scene depicting former NBA star Allen (“The Answer”) Iverson’s famous crossover-dribble move and step over a fallen opponent. Baldwin was part of the side show of players getting picked on the “basketball” play on the Panthers’ home field.
“People posed the question,” Lockett said. “So we gave them ‘The Answer.’”
I asked Baldwin Sunday if it was at all surprising that these kids around him are having so much fun and have shown such resiliency so soon after the house-cleaning from this spring and summer.
He paused and thought about that.
“No,” he said. “Because I think we have the right type of young guys, with the old guys that have been here have kind of instilled that mindset into them. You talk about guys like (third-year defensive tackle Jarran) Reed, who is kind of leading that front seven, leading the defensive line, having that special mentality. Then you look at our offensive line with (center) Justin Britt (who started Super Bowl 49 for Seattle) and (11th-year veteran) Duane Brown, they bring the tenacity that we’ve always needed and always wanted on our offensive line.
“So you have those two combinations, and the young guys who are just having fun, then good things happen. You saw that (Sunday).”
A fabulous thing happened to the Seahawks with 1 minute left in a tie game Sunday.
After Carolina’s Graham Gano missed a 52-yard field goal that would have given the home team the lead with 1:40 remaining, Seattle had a third and 5 near midfield.
Seattle’s improved offensive line gave Wilson all day to throw. That gave Lockett the time to stop and change his route to a scramble-drill one, deep behind flat-footed defensive back Captain Munnerlyn and Carolina’s entire defense. Wilson’s lofted pass and Lockett’s catch then run gained 43 yards to the Carolina 10 with 1 minute left.
With the Panthers out of time outs Wilson took two kneel-downs then spiked the ball to stop the clock with 4 seconds remaining. Sebastian Janikowski then kicked the 31-yard field goal that won the game as time expired.
Baldwin was asked how the game’s decisive play which he was a part of happened.
“I don’t know,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said the confusion in Carolina’s secondary that led to Lockett being so wide open behind everyone came after two Panthers went for Baldwin on an inside route early in the play, during Wilson’s original drop back.
“I got up (the field). The nickel (fifth defensive back Munnerlyn) let me go,” Baldwin said. “And then I guess the corner that was covering Tyler overlapped with me. So Tyler was technically by himself and the nickel was trying to catch up to him.
“It was just a smart play by Russ to see him open and get it to him.”
Baldwin sounded subdued amid the chaos, the dancing and the booming music surrounding him in the Seahawks’ locker room following this astounding victory. Who knows what advances in medicine allowed him to play 56 of 62 snaps and have five catches on seven targets for 39 yards Sunday?
After finally getting past months of pain in both knees, which caused him to sit out games two and three in September, and then a bad elbow Baldwin pulled his groin in practice Tuesday. He was questionable to play at Carolina. But after testing his leg during pregame drills Sunday and talking on the field with Seahawks trainers, Baldwin not only was active for the Panthers game he started again.
“It was extraordinary that he played,” Carroll said Monday. “I don’t know anybody who has played with a pull like that.”
Asked how hard it was to play, Baldwin scoffed. Then he grinned.
“It’s easy: I’m a savage,” he said, using his favorite word of this season. “You guys forget that.”