Richard Sherman spoke standing in the middle of a wowed Seattle Seahawks locker room. A new, white, oversized “NFC champions” T-shirt draped over his still-immobile left arm.
He intercepted quarterback Aaron Rodgers to end the Green Bay Packers’ first drive Sunday. Then he played the entire fourth quarter of Seattle’s astounding, 28-22 overtime win for the NFC championship with one good arm. Sherman held the injured one into his chest between plays. That was after teammate Kam Chancellor accidentally hit him on his way to Green Bay ball carrier James Starks along the sideline to end the first play of the final period.
Often, Sherman bent at the waist in pain
“I couldn’t put my hand up,” he said. “It didn’t feel great, I’m not going to lie.”
He never missed a play.
A few feet behind him fellow All-Pro defensive back Earl Thomas sat far back in his locker. The safety’s left shoulder was heavily wrapped. He had it pop out of its socket and back into place during the second quarter. He missed just three plays.
After he came back wearing a brace, Thomas hit bullish Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy so hard Lacy went from running directly north to directly west, out of bounds to end a play.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to be out there with my guys,” Thomas said.
Lost amid one of the greatest comebacks in Seattle sports history — given the stakes, maybe THE greatest — was how the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense kept the team in the game early, almost blew it late and just gritted out the rest.
“He hurt his elbow. I don’t know how he could have played,” said coach Pete Carroll of Sherman. “How do you play bump and run with one arm? But he did. … It was a fantastic feat.
“Earl hurt his shoulder and he comes back and hits Lacy on the sidelines with the harnessed shoulder as hard as you could possibly hit the guy and knocked him out of bounds. That’s just total guts.
“They’re the real deal when it comes to competing.”
Sherman mentioned something about a ligament in his elbow then deferred to “letting the doctors get to it.
“I will 100 percent be able to play (in the Super Bowl),” Sherman said.
When asked if was worried about being able to play Feb. 1 in Super Bowl XLIX against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Glendale, Arizona, Thomas said: “I’ll be fine.”
Inexplicably, Rodgers and the Packers targeted Sherman just one time in nine passes after the cornerback got hurt. That was on the Packers’ final play, third-and-10 from the Seahawks 36 with 26 seconds left in regulation. By sheer will more than physicality, Sherman spun down Jordy Nelson after his short catch over the middle 4 yards short of the first down.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby hit the 48-yard field goal on the next snap to send this crazy game into overtime.
Rodgers was just following his coaches’ play calls of running to protect the lead and shorten the game — eight of Green Bay’s 12 plays immediately following Sherman’s injury were rushes. But Sherman still expected Rodgers to test a one-armed cornerback more with the NFC title on the line.
“I was actually surprised, honestly. I thought once I went down with my elbow the rest of the game I would have a lot of action,” Sherman said.
Any thought of coming out to give two-armed backup Tharold Simon a shot?
“No, NFC championship is not the time to go out with an injury,” Sherman said. “If I can walk and I can still move my feet I’ll play.”
“WE BEND BUT DON’T BREAK”
It should have been 35-0 Packers at halftime. Instead it was just 16-0.
Green Bay started consecutive drives at the Seahawks 19 and 33-yard lines. That was after Russell Wilson’s first of four interceptions, all off Jermaine Kearse’s hands, and Doug Baldwin’s fumble of a kickoff return he started 6 yards deep in the end zone.
But Malcolm Smith — remember him? — made his first play since he became Most Valuable Player of February’s Super Bowl. Smith, playing at outside linebacker in the short-yardage unit, stopped Lacy short on third-and-goal from the 1. That forced a field goal instead of an early 7-0 lead for the Packers.
After Baldwin’s fumble, Thomas tackled Packers receiver Randall Cobb after a catch at the 1.
“That first quarter may have been the longest quarter of my life,” 11-year veteran nose tackle Kevin Williams said.
“No matter what you do to us,” Chancellor said after his five tackles, “no matter how hard the pressure gets, no matter what you throw at us — no matter what happens, we bend but don’t break.”
Like many Seahawks, Michael Bennett cried on the field.
Bennett’s tears were over the death of a friend back home in Houston.
Bennett learned before the game that Mark Alexander, the son of a close friend he’s known for 20 years whom Bennett calls his mentor back in Texas, died from cancer.
Bennett’s eyes were still red at his locker talking about it afterward. Yet the always-gregarious defensive end found a lighter outlook amid his personal loss.
“I prayed (to Alexander) before that last play. I said, ‘If you are in heaven, make this happen,’ ” Bennett said. “After that onside kick (teammate Chris Matthews recovered with 2 minutes, 9 seconds remaining with Seattle left down 19-14) I said ‘If you are really in heaven, make us get a touchdown’ And we got a touchdown.”
That was the 24-yard run by Marshawn Lynch that briefly put the Seahawks ahead 22-19.
“So he’s in heaven right now,” Bennett said. “That’s all I can think about.”
Bennett, already anticipating Seattle’s top offseason contact priority after Wilson’s two perfect throws to end overtime and win the NFC championship: “He’s a $150 million quarterback.” … TE Tony Moeaki returned after missing last week’s divisional-round win over the Carolina Panthers with a shoulder injury. So third TE Cooper Helfet was inactive. TE Luke Willson had two drops in the second half — before his huge, improbable catch of Wilson’s cross-field pass for the key two-point conversion that put Seattle up 22-19 with 1:25 left in regulation. … All that hullabaloo Carroll gave last week about third-string QB B.J. Daniels getting promoted from the practice squad to active roster to potentially do all sorts of things Sunday was indeed gamesmanship. Daniels was inactive. So were injured starting RT Justin Britt (knee) and backup S Jeron Johnson (elbow) plus CB Marcus Burley, G Keavon Milton and DE David King. … Asked how he felt minutes after the Seahawks’ improbable, preposterous comeback and win, Thomas said: “I’m clueless right now.”