Bruce Irvin, a linebacker drafted as a pass-rushing specialist, made the prettiest play of an ugly Seattle Seahawks victory Sunday over the Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback Russell Wilson never clicked with his receivers. Because of an injury epidemic along the offensive line, as many as five Hawks starters were replaced by, well, false starters —substitutes who apparently were introduced to each other between the warm-up drills and the national anthem.
The special teams gave up a touchdown on a blocked punt, enabling the hapless Raiders to believe they could hang with the defending Super Bowl champions.
“It was a circus out there,” coach Pete Carroll said after his team’s 30-24 victory. Carroll was talking about the challenge of making sure players new to the special teams were lined up in the right position, but the reference could have applied to the game itself, a slop-fest salvaged by Irvin’s acrobatic interception on — what else? — a circus catch.
Irvin’s primary job is to harass the passer after using a quick spin move on an offensive tackle, but on the final play of the first quarter, with the Raiders at their 27-yard line, Irvin retreated into coverage. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr, who’d wanted to throw deep, settled on secondary receiver James Jones in the right flat.
But Irvin, who stands 6-foot-3 and has the hops of a slam-dunking basketball guard, got between Carr and Jones and deflected the pass, turning it into a finders-keepers pop up.
“I didn’t think I had a shot at it,” Irvin said. “But when I looked up, it was coming down.”
Given the absence of artistry Sunday, it would have been fitting for Irvin to botch the catch. Not this time. Irvin cradled the ball and took off.
“Great play by him,” Carr said. “I knew it when I threw it. Bruce got his hand on it, and made a heck of an athletic play.”
It concluded with Irvin outracing Carr to the Raiders’ end zone, an anticipated result not without suspense.
“I should’ve run him over, huh?” Irvin joked. “I was like, ‘I can’t let him catch me because if he catches me, they’re gonna be talking stuff about me.’ So I just tried to get in.”
Irvin’s touchdown followed a strong performance last week at Carolina, where his two final-drive sacks of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sealed a similarly uneven Seahawks victory.
“He’s highlighting it,” Carroll said. “Last week was a great showing for him, and he’s played really well, anyway. But that’s an enormous play for us to see. And then to finish it and put it in the end zone, too, that was great.
“It’s great to see him having the impact. I know his confidence has to be flying, and he’s ready to just keep on going. It seems like he’s just getting started.”
That Irvin seems just to be getting started points out the mixed-bag quality of his career. Selected No. 15 overall by the Seahawks in the 2012 draft — the mother lode that also brought them middle linebacker Bobby Wagner in the second round, Wilson in the third, and running back Robert Turbin in the fourth — Irvin led NFL rookies with eight sacks in 2012.
But 2013 got off to a rocky start with a four-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and his numbers — two sacks, one interception — indicated a sophomore slump. A hip injury requiring surgery in June threatened to complicate what Irvin has called a “make-or-break” year for him in 2014.
So far, so good.
“Bruce Irvin is one of the best athletes on this team,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, who also picked off a Carr pass Sunday for his first interception of the season. “To be a linebacker, with his speed and explosiveness, we’ve got to expect those plays from him. Still, it was an incredible play and I’m sure it will be on the Top 10 plays, or something like that.”