Richard Sherman will be disappointed if he doesn’t get to see Matt Schaub again.
The last time the Seattle Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback spent an afternoon with the now-Baltimore Ravens’ backup, he was helping ruin Schaub’s season and his career with the Texans.
On Sept. 29, 2013, a stifling Texas day, Seattle had come back from a 20-3 deficit at halftime to within 20-13 with 3 minutes left. Schaub had led the Texans across midfield when he did exactly what Sherman and the Seahawks had scouted and practiced he’s do. Sherman intercepted Schaub’s throwback pass and ran 58 yards the other way, comically losing his shoe en route. His touchdown tied the game and forced overtime.
Seattle won in the extra period, on its way to a 13-3 regular season and first Super Bowl title.
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That was the second of 14 consecutive defeats to end 2013 for Houston. Schaub made only four more starts before the Texans let him go into his current journeyman status.
Sherman’s face lit up at the memory this past week, before the surging Seahawks (7-5) play at Schaub’s Ravens (4-8) at M&T Bank Stadium on a forecasted unseasonably warm December afternoon.
“I remember that game being incredibly hot. I remember them fooling us with the roof open at the beginning of the game and then trapping us with the roof closed with the heat and humidity and sweating to death,” Sherman said of the Schaub game in Houston. “But, yes, I do have fond memories of that game.”
Sherman said his theft of Schaub “was definitely a result of preparation” by then-defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now Atlanta’s head coach.
“It was a play we saw multiple times, that we knew they’d run in that part of the field, with the ball on that hash, the down and distance was perfect. It was a great call by the coordinator,” Sherman said. “It was a great read by me. And it was a bit of a gamble, but educated guess. Took my hypothesis and executed.”
That was part of four consecutive games in which Schaub threw a pick-six. The odds of that happening, according to a mathematician in The Washington Post, is more than 6,800 to 1.
Incredibly, Schaub enters Sunday having interceptions returned for scores in each of his last three starts, including last weekend in a 15-13 loss at Miami; he’s been subbing for Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl champion who is out for the season following knee surgery. If Schaub throws another interception that gets returned for a touchdown against Seattle, he will tie his own NFL record.
The Washington Post went on to calculate the odds of the same quarterback throwing pick-sixes in four consecutive games twice in a career. It’s one in 12,000. That’s 4,000 times more unlikely than getting struck by lightning.
Alas, Schaub was struck by Dolphins last week. Often. He went through the league’s concussion protocol and missed Ravens practices Wednesday and Thursday with what the team said was a bruised chest.
So the third-stringer that’s been taking all the snaps in practice this week has been: Jimmy Clausen.
Maybe Sherman won’t be so sad if he doesn’t see Schaub.
Clausen was Chicago’s fill-in for injured Jay Cutler on Sept. 27 when the Bears played the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. He fared even worse than Schaub did the last time he played Seattle.
Clausen managed just 48 net yards passing and played basically like a high-school QB who’d been converted from another position for the game. First and 10, third and long and almost every play in between the Bears had Clausen hand the ball to runner Matt Forte. Chicago gained just 146 total yards, punted 10 times in 10 drives, and the Seahawks rolled, 26-0. And that was during a time in this season when they weren’t functioning at anywhere near the level they are now.
Schaub didn’t practice at all this past week. If he can’t play, Clausen will (according to The Associated Press and STATS) become the sixth quarterback to start against the same opponent for two different teams in the same NFL season. The last to do it was Kyle Orton in 2011 for Kansas City then Denver.
“It’s going to be a, probably, just a tolerance issue and how well he moves around,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Schaub. “I wouldn’t be shocked if we see him play.”
Whoever plays, the Seahawks will seek to do what they did to Minnesota so decisively last week in a 38-7 road win that knocked the Vikings out of the NFC North lead. Seattle played patiently, staying in its assigned gaps and waiting for league rushing leader Adrian Peterson to come to them instead of chasing and getting exploited on cutback runs. Peterson gained just 18 yards, the third-fewest of his 10-year career. That played into the Seahawks’ defensive strength. It put the entire game on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and his check-down throwing. Seattle ambushed Vikings receivers in front of them immediately after the catch and held Minnesota to 125 total yards, the low in the league for one team this season.
If Seattle can put the same throttle on Javoris “Buck” Allen, Baltimore’s fill-in runner for injured former Seahawk Justin Forsett, it will put the game onto the arm of Schaub, who is also a check-down, short-passing specialist, or Clausen, who failed so miserably against the Seahawks 2 1/2 months ago. Either scenario would seem to be a win for Seattle.
“We’ve been doing a good job of making teams one-dimensional,” Seahawks All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “And that’s always going to turn in our favor.”
Almost everything has been turning in the Seahawks’ offense’s favor lately.
Russell Wilson has thrown 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions and a completion rate of 77 percent the last three games. He is 13-2 in December.
The offensive line that was so malfunctioning in the first half of the season is picking up blitzes and giving Wilson a pocket and time in it to throw the ball down the field, especially to Doug Baldwin. He has five touchdowns in the last two games.
Add in Thomas Rawls romping for a Seattle rookie-record 209 yards against San Francisco, plus 81 and 101 against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, respectively, and the offense has 106 points while averaging more than 450 yards in those victories.
Plus, while still talented in places this is not the Ray Lewis-Ed Reed Ravens defense. Baltimore is tied for 19th in the league allowing more than 24 points per game. The Ravens are last in the league in interceptions and 21st in allowing third-down conversions.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been preaching all week that Baltimore’s record is deceiving. All of the Ravens’ losses have been by eight points or fewer, and most got decided late.
“They’ve got a lot of guys hurt, a lot of key players hurt. But you look at their games and they’ve all been close,” Wagner said.
“This is not a team that we can take lightly.”
Whatever. This is one the Seahawks should win. A two-time defending conference champion with so much at stake would have only itself to blame for overlooking anyone and giving away a game at this time of the season.
A win would send Seattle past Minnesota (8-5) for the fifth spot in the six-team NFC playoffs with three regular-season games remaining. The fifth seed gets a first-round game at the division winner with the worst record. That almost assuredly will be either Washington, the New York Giants, Philadelphia or Dallas in an NFC East where no team is better than 5-7.
It’s not a third-consecutive division title for Seattle — Arizona (11-2) needs only one more win to lock up the NFC West. But it’s far better than it looked like this team was headed when it was 0-2, 2-4 and 4-5
“We are confident in our ability to turn things around. We don’t ever let adversity define our season,” Wagner said. “A lot of teams would have called it quits and moved on. But we’re resilient.”
Did he ever feel even a little doubt this season?
“Never,” Wagner said. “The only doubt I sensed was everybody outside our locker room. We really weren’t too worried about what people thought outside the locker room.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-5) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (4-8)
Sunday, 10 a.m., M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
Line: Seahawks by 8 1/2.
The series: The teams have split four meetings. The Ravens won the first two, in Baltimore, in 1997 and 2003. The Seahawks’ wins were in Seattle, in 2007 and ’11.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Give ’em the Bridgewater treatment: Baltimore would rather run power with “Buck” Allen, who is filling in for injured Justin Forsett. The Ravens may have a third-string quarterback starting, so even more reason to run right at the Seahawks. That’s what Minnesota tried to do last week — en route to the fewest total yards in an NFL game this season (125). NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson managed just 18 yards, and Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t throw Minnesota anywhere. That style plays directly into Seattle’s strength’s: making offenses with so-so QBs one-dimensional, freeing DEs Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to do what they do best, pass rushing.
See Clark run: Rookie DE Frank Clark is emerging at a prime time in Seattle’s season as an inside, speedy pass rusher next to Bennett. With DT Jordan Hill out again (toe), expect more of what the Seahawks used at Minnesota: a zooming defensive front with Avril and Bruce Irvin outside at end with Bennett and Clark too fast for guards and centers inside. Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen — or whoever ends up playing QB for the Ravens — probably won’t like those four in his face all day.
Stay “on schedule:” Just a couple weeks ago that was Seattle’s buzzword for the offense staying in manageable downs and distances to convert on third down. Three wins, a 60-percent conversion rate on third down and eight touchdowns in 10 red-zone trips later, staying “on schedule” for this rampaging offense means more Russell Wilson deep passing for scores. It also mean this team taking care of a wounded, demoralized foe it should handle to remain on yet another December surge.
Seahawks, 27-10. Wilson’s recent excellence continues. The defense makes whoever is Baltimore’s quarterback throw more than the Ravens want him to. And Seattle realizes its September and October cost them any opportunity to let up now.
3 — Russell Wilson, QB (5-11, 206, fourth season): 11 TDs, 0 INTs, 77-percent completions last three games. What a difference time to throw makes.
65 — Patrick Lewis (6-1, 311, third season): The unsung hero of Seattle’s season. Once he replaced Drew Nowak in October, offensive line worked as hoped — finally.
55 — Frank Clark, DE (6-3, 272, first season): Look for more of him inside next to Bennett on passing downs. But Baltimore is allowing second-fewest sacks per game in NFL.
8 — Matt Schaub, QB (6-6, 245, 12th season): INTs returned for TDs in each of last three games he’s started. He might not play after getting pounded last week in loss at Miami.
2 — Jimmy Clausen, QB (6-2, 210, sixth season): Yes, him again. If Schaub can’t play, Clausen will become the sixth QB to start for two teams against the same opponent in the same NFL season.
52 — Javoris “Buck” Allen, RB (6-0, 220, first season): Ravens’ best chance is for Justin Forsett’s injury fill-in to run well, taking the onus off whoever is the QB.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle