If the Seahawks haven’t exactly found Marshawn Lynch’s eventual heir, they’ve at least found a more-than-capable fill-in.
At least they found him up until overtime on Sunday.
Undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls bulled for 169 yards on 23 carries against Cincinnati, including a 69-yard scoring romp that was a Lynch-like bounce outside left, away from the zone blocking to the right.
It was Rawls’ second 100-yard game in the three weeks since Lynch injured his strained hamstring in the second quarter of the win over Chicago on Sept. 26.
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Rawls’ touchdown, which made it 17-7 early in the third quarter of Seattle’s 27-24 loss to the Bengals (5-0), was the longest first NFL career score since DeMarco Murray went 91 yards for his first TD in October 2011 for Dallas.
Rawls finished it by running through a pitiful arm-tackle try by Cincinnati defensive back Reggie Nelson at about the 15-yard line.
So why was Rawls on the sideline — looking curiously ready but idle, helmet on —during the Seahawks’ first, fruitless drive of overtime?
On that drive, when a touchdown would have won the game, Seattle running back Fred Jackson looked every bit of 34 years old and six days removed from getting a high-ankle sprain. Jackson ran twice for no gain; the second one got negated by a holding penalty on left tackle Russell Okung that ruined a drive to nowhere.
“We just hustled up the mode and changed the mode like we often do,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said about using Jackson over Rawls to begin overtime.
It was a cryptic comment, given that the Seahawks didn’t use a no-huddle offense in that drive. Furthermore, Rawls didn’t get an official carry in overtime. His lone run, for 2 yards at the start of Seattle’s second OT drive, got negated by a clipping penalty on right tackle Garry Gilliam.
Asked if he knew why he wasn’t on the field to start overtime, Rawls said: “No. And it’s not all about me. There’s a reason, you know, why Fred Jackson’s out there, stuff like that.
“I trust the organization. I trust the big boys up front. We are just trying to get better.”
Seattle rushed for 200 yards on 30 carries against the Bengals, its most rushing yards since 264 last Dec. 21 in a rout of the Cardinals in Arizona. But after Rawls’ TD run, the Seahawks never crossed midfield. They gained just 53 yards on 26 plays with three first downs over their final six drives.
“I don’t know why that would have happened,” Carroll said. “We didn’t change anything, and we were still mixing it up. I feel good about the way we ran the football, and we didn’t leave that. We didn’t curl up (with the big lead) and not try to throw it, either. We kept doing what we were doing. We just didn’t convert.”
Lynch didn’t make the trip to Ohio, missing only his third game in six seasons. But the Seahawks believe that the NFL’s leading rusher and touchdown maker since 2011 will be able to play this coming weekend when Seattle (2-3) hosts Carolina (4-0).
If Lynch can’t go, the Seahawks will take an increased trust in Rawls into the game against the Panthers.
“Rawls was lights out,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “It’s not a surprise. The way he practices transfers over to the game.
“I thought the offensive line was phenomenal today, honestly.”
Rawls played three, uneventful seasons at Michigan before a 1,000-yard season for Central Michigan last year. He also credited the Seahawks’ maligned blockers.
“I broke some runs. The offensive line did a great job,” Rawls said.
“Better than last week. That’s something we talked about. I said … we were going to get better. And that’s exactly what we did. I’m so proud of those guys.
“We did improve. That was one thing we wanted to do.”
Now if the Seahawks only would have used him for the entire game.