The news that Sidney Rice suffered a season-ending knee injury Monday night further deflated a victory the Seattle Seahawks would just as soon forget.
Rice hasn’t been the Pro Bowl acquisition the Hawks envisioned when they guaranteed $18 million to the free agent in 2011, but on those infrequent occasions he was healthy, Rice’s ability to outjump cornerbacks provided an offensive frill, if not always a thrill.
How do the Seahawks replace the big-play potential of a 6-foot-4 wide receiver with acrobatic athletic ability?
Here’s a thought: They replace him with a 5-11 bull moose who craves to carry his team on his back and, for that matter, opposing tacklers on his back, too. They replace him with Marshawn Lynch.
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Remember Lynch? “Beast Mode”? The Skittles fan whose “Stop Freakin’ ” pitches for a plumbing company sound less like an endorsement than advice you’d better not refuse? Remember that guy?
I know, Lynch hasn’t gone anywhere. He was in the starting lineup Monday night at St. Louis, where he figured to slice and dice a Rams’ defense that began the game ranked No. 30 against the rush.
Lynch took a handoff, at the Seattle 7-yard line, on the Seahawks’ first snap. He lost 3 yards. Hey, it happens. The Rams were fired up and the Hawks, rested but rusty after an 11-day break between games, were not.
A 3-yard loss on the first play should not have dictated a radical philosophical shift for an offense built around a running back with a history of wearing down the opposition. But it did. Lynch got the ball only eight more times, seven on carries and once on a short pass reception.
Lynch’s light workload could have been justified if St. Louis was keying on him. But the Rams and their dynamic duo of defensive ends – Robert Quinn and Chris Long – were keying on Russell Wilson, whose bewildered pass protectors typically gave the quarterback a microsecond to stand and deliver.
When Wilson wasn’t sacked – and he was sacked seven times – he was pressured and pestered and consistently forced into the yoke of harm’s way. And yet on a night Wilson was fortunate to survive intact, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell kept calling on his quarterback to defy the odds and avoid the onslaught.
Of the Seahawks’ 40 offensive plays, Wilson was put at risk in 28 of them. Meanwhile, Lynch, the sort of grind-it-out running back who thrives on repetition – he’s more effective in the fourth quarter than the first quarter – was left to wonder why he’d been purged from the game plan.
Lynch is as adept at breaking tackles as anybody who has ever played the game, but as an actor, well, let’s just say his future on the screen will be limited to those plumbing-company endorsements. He’s incapable of pretending.
When Lynch was denied an opportunity to score a 1-yard touchdown on a first-and-goal play at Arizona, on Oct. 17, he was seen gesturing to the Seahawks sideline. Had the gesture featured an index finger, it could have been interpreted as “We’re No. 1!”
Lynch didn’t stew with similar animation Monday night, but he clearly simmered when a first-and-goal sequence found Wilson running twice before tossing a touchdown pass to Golden Tate.
“He’s a competitor,” coach Pete Carroll said afterward of Lynch, among a handful of NFL players whose boorish behavior on the field – to reiterate: he flipped a bird toward the sideline at Arizona – is tolerated.
“He wants the ball,” Carroll continued. “He wants to put the ball in the end zone. He wants to help us win.”
Got it. Marshawn Lynch goes by his own rules, and comports himself with a me-first attitude that has no particular consequences. Because when it comes to carrying the ball, he’s ruthless and fearless, the ultimate team player.
So why not give him the damn ball?
Nursing their 14-9 lead with 12:51 remaining Monday night, the Seahawks were in a clock-killing mode when they began a possession at their 20-yard line. On first down, Lynch picked up 5 yards off left tackle.
Not spectacular, just a solid first-down gain against a defense desperate to force a Hawks punt. Second down and 5, there’s no reason to get cute: hand the ball to Lynch. His legs are fresh, and his appetite for contact has reached the point of insatiable.
But Lynch doesn’t participate in the second-down play (an incomplete pass to Tate), or the third-down play (an incomplete pass that goes through the hands of Jermaine Kearse).
The Seahawks punt.
A goal-line stand allowed Seattle to escape St. Louis with both a 7-1 record and a victory unprecedented in the stats book: Before Monday, the Seahawks were 0-for-7 in games Lynch has carried fewer than 10 times.
He wants the ball, he needs the ball, and he dumbs things down to offensive football at its basic, crash-and-conrtol roots when he gets the ball. There should be nothing complicated about this.
Sidney Rice is done for the season. A patchwork line, with replacement offensive tackles who operate in a permanent count of uh-oh, can’t block the whirling brutes they barely see. A quarterback with a knack for buying time has no time to catch the snap before he’s besieged from left and right.
And this is a team supposedly bound for the Super Bowl?
Stop freakin’, just give the ball to the beacon.