LANDOVER, Md. – A nation of sports fans and analysts predicted this game would be a duel between a pair of high-octane rookie quarterbacks destined to be the faces of the new NFL.
But like so much of what the Seattle Seahawks have accomplished in the past couple of seasons, Sunday’s 24-14 NFC wild-card playoff win over the Washington Redskins came on the back of Marshawn Lynch, an unrelenting runner whose toughness defines his team’s identity.
It was Seattle’s first road playoff win since 1983, five years before quarterback Russell Wilson was born, and it propels the Seahawks into the NFC divisional round Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta.
But it was far from the complete and polished performance that had become a Seahawks hallmark during their late-season push to an 11-5 record.
They started slowly on both sides and failed to capitalize on the kind of opportunities that tend to doom teams in the playoffs.
But Marshawn Lynch would not let that happen. After all, the man’s Twitter handle is @MoneyLynch, which serves as an implied guarantee that he will be absolute money in a time of need.
Lynch rushed for 132 yards (6.6 average), but two plays in particular made the difference in the game.
The first came in the middle of the second quarter, when Seattle trailed 14-3. The read-option play, in which Wilson either keeps the ball or hands it to Lynch, has been at the heart of the team’s late surge.
But on this play, the ball bounced loose between them and squirted in the direction of several Redskins players at about the Seattle 40-yard line.
Down by 11, and on the verge of giving up a turnover in their own territory, the Seahawks’ postseason was in peril.
But Lynch reacted instantly, and rather than dive on it, as is the accepted practice, he speared it with one hand and ran 20 yards into Washington territory.
Five plays later, Wilson passed to fullback Michael Robinson for a touchdown that brought the Seahawks back into the game.
“That had to be an extraordinary play,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “Dead run, scoop it up and keep on going. That was a huge play for us … it happened so fast you could hardly believe what he did.”
Wilson said that he and Lynch often tell each other to never worry because they have the other’s back. Lynch proved it in timely fashion.
“That was an unbelievable play,” Wilson said. “The ball came out funny on the exchange. Marshawn had my back; he was right there and picked up the ball and had a huge gain. I think it was one of the biggest plays of the game (considering) the situation we were in.”
Even though All-Pro offensive tackle Russell Okung was blocking on the play, he saw Lynch come from nowhere and gather up the ball. “It was amazing,” Okung said, shaking his head. “That tells you what we are as a team; guys never give up on a play, and are always pushing to make something happen. That’s who we are, and it showed on that play.”
Lynch gave one back in the third quarter, losing a fumble 2 yards from the Washington goal line.
“He got smacked on the side and a guy put a helmet on the ball,” Carroll said, noting that the line missed a block. “It was so unusual for that to happen, we can’t even recall the last time that happened. It didn’t faze him at all, and we didn’t back off giving him the ball, of course.”
Of course. And it paid off in the fourth quarter when Lynch took off up the middle, broke an arm tackle at the line, faked another guy at the second level, scooted up the right sideline and, helped by a block from Wilson, carried three Redskins into the end zone.
The 27-yard touchdown run was a one-play highlight reel, showing his burst at the line, his nimble footwork in traffic, and then his power at the goal line. And it took the Seahawks from being down 14-13 to a lead that swelled to 21-14 after Wilson hit tight end Zach Miller on a two-point conversion.
“That speaks to his character,” offensive tackle Breno Giacomini said of Lynch bouncing back after the fumble. “He knows what these games are all about; he put it behind him and kept going.”
Lynch avoids microphones and notebooks as well as linebackers and safeties, so we are denied his thoughts on the performance.
But Carroll was able to capture the meaning of that touchdown as well as Lynch’s powerful influence on a team that is now red-hot and rolling.
“The run Marshawn makes on that last touchdown was a great run,” Carroll said. “A great finish, and that is really what he does for us, and what he has done for us all year long and for the last few years. It was cool that he did it to give us a chance to separate and get the win.”