SEATTLE — When the Seahawks traded to acquire Pro Bowler Sheldon Richardson weeks before the start of the season, Seattle was looking to solidify its defensive interior — find a fixture in the middle of the line who could plug holes in the run game and apply quarterback pressure.
Sacks alone haven’t proved an appropriate measurable for Richardson. He had one entering Sunday night’s contest with the Philadelphia Eagles despite producing in other ways.
But with a swipe of his left hand, Richardson arguably made one of the Seahawks’ defensive plays of the year during Seattle’s pivotal 24-10 win Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
“Huge, huge play by Sheldon,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “You can’t make a better play than that. We always talk about ‘Give us an inch and we’ll defend it,’ and that’s kind of how it was there. Spectacular turnaround right there for us.”
Trailing 10-3 after limited first-half success, Philadelphia’s offense opened the third quarter with a promising drive down to Seattle’s 6 but was denied points courtesy of Richardson.
Facing a second-and-goal, quarterback Carson Wentz kept the ball on a read-option and cut quickly inside and up the field barrelling toward the end zone. As the QB fell toward the goal line, Richardson ripped at the ball with his big left paw, pulling it from Wentz’s grasp before Wentz’s knee hit the turf. The ball bounced into the end zone, deflected off Michael Wilhoite’s foot and then contacted the white-painted backline for a touchback.
“I was just coming off a block, saw on film that he likes to fight for extra yards,” Richardson said. “Other than that, just stuck my hand in there and ripped it out. He’s a quarterback. He’s not use to getting hit down in and down out, so protecting the ball is something he is still a little foreign to.”
Eleven plays and 3:57 later, Seattle owned a 17-3 lead after a 1-yard TD pass from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett — good for a potential 14-point swing.
“That was big time,” said Bobby Wagner of Richardson’s strip. “I don’t remember what the score was at the time. But I feel like if they scored in that moment of the game, it’s a different game. It was big time for Sheldon to come in and get that strip and not give them any points.”
The play was a true defend-every-blade-of-grass moment and reminiscent of another famous forced fumble on a national stage.
More than two years ago, the 2015 Seahawks were looking a 1-3 record in the face during a Monday night game against the Detroit Lions. Seattle was leading 13-10 in the waning moments when Kam Chancellor sealed a win after punching the ball out from the grasp of Calvin Johnson as the big receiver approached the goal line.
“That was for the win,” Wagner said, “This was a different moment.”
Still, there’s no doubting the significance of Richardson’s play. It allowed Seattle to capture a two-possession lead and put more pressure on the Eagles’ offense to produce.
“It was another opportunity, and I made the best of it,” Richardson said. “I’m supposed to do it, I feel like. It was crucial in the time frame it was and blessed to have the opportunity.”
Beyond the critical forced fumble, Richardson led a front four that harassed Wentz and one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses.
Frank Clark finished with two sacks, and Justin Coleman added another on a cornerback blitz.
“We brought a few blitzes, but our front four man pressure was getting to them,” Wagner said. “I think Frank did a good job, Sheldon, Michael and those guys, they were in his face a lot. We called a couple blitzes. We were just trying to get after him and put people in his face.”
“We send a message every week we play — win, lose or draw,” said Richardson when asked the message the Seahawks defense sent Sunday night. “It’s not going to be easy beating us. That’s just how we go about it.”