John McGrath

John McGrath: Blocked punt a major turning point for Seahawks

DeShawn Shead envisioned the future Sunday afternoon. He liked what he saw.

The third-year cornerback knew he was going to make the play that would change the momentum of the Seattle Seahawks’ showdown against the Arizona Cardinals. Shead’s uncanny premonition was less the product of rare psychic powers than an ability to see the Cards had lined up with only 10 men for a third-quarter punt.

“I couldn’t believe they did that,” Shead said after the Seahawks’ 19-3 victory. “My mind immediately went: ‘I might as well block this.’ I’m looking at their sideline thinking they’re going to send somebody in and they snap the ball. Nobody knew. Their own team didn’t know. Our team didn’t know.”

Leading 9-3 in a game that resembled one of those muddy NFL scrums played 50 years ago, the Seahawks were not planning to block the midfield punt of Arizona rookie Drew Butler. They were content to settle for a possession exchange, likely beginning it deep in their territory.

“I was supposed to hold up on somebody, but there was nobody to hold up,” Shead went on. “I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to blow my cover.”

He broke through so fast, the punter’s foot hit Shead in the face, leaving him with a swollen upper lip. By then the ball was slithering inside the Arizona 30-yard line, where the Cards’ Rob Housler retrieved it and set up Act II of a play bound to remain a video board staple at CenturyLink Field: Cooper Helfet’s throw-down tackle of Housler.

“I didn’t see it, but you can hear a blocked punt pretty crisply,” Helfet said. “I was on the ground, then did a little roll to get back up, like a defensive-line drill. When they picked up the ball, I knew I was going to make a tackle.

“It looked pretty cool, apparently.”

The tight end, who also scored the Seahawks’ only touchdown with a dive just inside the end-zone pylon after catching a 20-yard pass from Russell Wilson, had never made a tackle in an NFL game. That his form more resembled Randy Savage than Randy White did not go unnoticed by Legion of Boom safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

“A body slam, it was pretty sweet,” Helfet said. “Kam and Earl came up to me right away and told me, ‘Way to go, all right!’ Any time you get credit from Kam Chancellor for a tackle, that’s quite an achievement.”

The block that preceded the body slam, of course, couldn’t have been accomplished without the Cardinals’ failure to communicate.

“It was strictly a guy who didn’t go out there,” coach Bruce Arians said of rookie running back Stepfan Taylor. “We as coaches didn’t see and find it in time. That was huge because our defense had set the momentum for the second half.

“We were right where we wanted to be,” continued Arians, whose team’s nine victories this season have shared a similar story line: nurse a one-score margin into the third quarter, when the offense makes a big play or two and the superior defense asserts itself.

As Arians put it: “The defense was going to come out and set the tempo and they did. We should have been able to punt the ball, keep them pinned in and the have the defense turn it over so we can get that score.

“The blocked punt was the turning point.”

It’s kind of amusing, from a Seahawks perspective, how the punt broke down. During the days leading up to the game, there was much talk about how the NFL West leaders — specifically, inexperienced backup quarterback Drew Stanton — would deal with the Seattle’s 12th Man.

Turns out a substantial reason the Cardinals lost is because they lined up only 10 of them.

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