The Seahawks finally set Bobby Wagner free.
And, man, did he soar.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s plan Sunday was to pressure 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens, who was a rookie on their practice squad last season, with more blitzing by Wagner and linebacker partner Austin Calitro than normal.
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Not only did the Seahawks storm to a 27-3 lead while hitting Mullen repeatedly into the first parts of the third quarter at CenturyLink Field, Wagner had one of the best games of his All-Pro career.
He had 12 tackles, one off his season high he’s done twice in the last month. He had his first sack of the season, underscoring how rarely Norton blitzes him. He had two other tackles for losses slicing into San Francisco’s backfield, two of Seattle’s 15 quarterback hits, two passes defensed over the middle, and a forced fumble and recovery by ripping the ball from Wilson in the second quarter with San Francisco at the Seattle 13 down 13-0.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Wagner had the first interception return for a touchdown of his seven seasons in the NFL. Wagner cut in front of 49ers running back Jeff Wilson at the goal line, picked off Mullens’ pass at the 2 and ran past Mullens and every other Niners player to the end zone. The 98-yard score, the final points of Seattle’s 43-16 victory, is now the longest interception return in Seahawks history.
At the end of it, Wagner went into a fetal position in the end zone and, using the football as a prop/pillow, feigned a nap.
Wagner got teased by teammates for slowing over the final 25 yards of so of his record-breaking romp to the other end zone.
“It was a crazy run,” Wagner said, joking he only caught his breath in the locker room after the game. “I was super tired, and I was trying to figure out which celebration I can catch my breath on. I figured what better celebration than to go to sleep.”
Nobody was sleeping on Wagner’s memorable performance all over the Seahawks’ attacking defense Sunday, a sharp rebound from giving up a season-high 476 yards and getting no sacks or hits on Cam Newton in the previous week’s win at Carolina.
He became the first Seahawk to record an interception return for a touchdown, a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in a game since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982.
“You can’t talk about this game unless you talk about Bobby Wagner,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He had just a phenomenal game.
“There’s not many more things the guy could do...(and) just did a marvelous job of taking care of all the leadership stuff that he does, too.
“He’s playing as good as you can play the game. He’s a phenomenal football player, really in the peak of his career...
“He’s a great Seahawk, and we are lucky to have him.”
After his epic day, Wagner and former teammate Richard Sherman met at midfield. Wagner had been one of many of Sherman’s ex-mates angling for a game-jersey swap with the three-time All-Pro. But Doug Baldwin, Sherman’s best pal from their days at Stanford, got Sherman’s white Niners road jersey No. 25 on Sunday.
That’s fine with Wagner. He’s holding out for Sherman’s black jersey San Francisco sometimes wears at home.
The Seahawks play at the 49ers on Dec. 16, their only road game among their four remaining contests this regular season.
The fashion-minded Wagner said: “I like black.”