By Scott M. Johnson
CLEVELAND – Midway through the first quarter of Sunday’s season opener, the Seattle Seahawks got their answer.
Cleveland Browns receiver Kevin Johnson ran a fly pattern down the right sideline, and Seattle cornerback Paul Miranda matched him stride-for-stride. When Tim Couch’s pass arrived near the goal line, Miranda jumped up and batted the ball away.
With three cornerbacks – Shawn Springs, Willie Williams and Ike Charlton – shelved with injuries, the Seahawks suddenly found out their young cornerbacks might be all right.
By the time all was said and done, Miranda and fellow cornerback Ken Lucas had more than held their own in starting debuts.
“I wasn’t worried about it at all,” safety Reggie Tongue said. “I knew they could play.”
Lucas and Miranda played so well Sunday that the zone defenses that ruled the first half were slowly filtered down. The defensive calls got more aggressive as the game wore on, and Seattle held Cleveland to 149 passing yards.
“I was very pleased,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. “Kenny Lucas, he was the one that stood out in my mind. He had a couple – more than a couple – of nice plays where he knocked the ball down. Close plays. Real aggressive plays.”
Lucas was credited with four passes defensed – one more than Miranda. Lucas’ biggest play came on Cleveland’s final drive. On third-and-goal from the Seattle 5, Lucas leaped over receiver Quincy Morgan’s right shoulder and swatted away a Couch pass.
“I’m a rookie, so I’m sure they’re going to test me to see if I’m ready,” Lucas said. “But I was ready for the task.
“Rookie’s a mentality,” he added. “I’ve got four preseason games under my belt, so when does the label ever leave you? I have a lot to prove to people. There were a lot of teams that passed up on me in the draft. I want to show them that I’m one of the best young corners coming up in the league.”
Lucas and Miranda spent the first quarter of the game playing off their receivers in man-to-man coverage, allowing Cleveland to throw short passes underneath. But as the young corners’ confidence grew, their defense got tighter.
“I think I had a pretty nice day,” Miranda said. “I wasn’t being crazy out there. I was just doing what I was coached to do.”
Holmgren said there is a chance Springs could be back as soon as next week, or no later than the Sept. 23 game against Philadelphia. Williams and Charlton could be out two more weeks.
Watters shines again: At the age of 32, running back Ricky Watters doesn’t appear to be getting any older. Watters provided the offense with another big spark in Sunday’s game, which marked his 114th consecutive start.
After the Seahawks’ opening drive of the second half went three-and-out, Watters broke off a nine-yard run on the next drive. In true Watters fashion, he jumped up and began pumping his arms. On the next play, he broke a 40-yard run after high-stepping past Daylon McCutcheon and juking by Percy Ellsworth.
That drive stalled after Watters left the game with an injured neck, but the Seahawks were able to take a 6-3 lead on Rian Lindell’s 23-yard field goal. Watters eventually returned and finished the game with 97 rushing yards off 15 carries.
“He looked like he was worn out, but he’s a fighter,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “He’s one of those guys who want the ball, want to get it done. You can really tell he’s a great player. He’s one of the stars of our offense.”
So-so debut for Robinson: Wide receiver Koren Robinson, the ninth overall pick in the April NFL draft, had a mediocre day in his first professional game.
Robinson caught three passes for a team-high 44 yards, including a 15-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter and a 22-yarder on a deep curl in which he recovered after originally falling down.
Robinson’s 15-yard reception ended with a fumble. He also failed to convert on three catchable passes and badly missed a block during a Watters run to his side of the field.
Although Robinson was slated to make his first NFL start, the team’s poor field position to open the game forced Seattle to go with two tight ends. Robinson came onto the field for the third offensive play and immediately caught a seven-yard pass.
Afterward, Robinson was talking a pretty good game, too.
“We are trying to change it around in Seattle,” Robinson said. “We want to create a tradition that everyone will talk about, like the Rams’ offense and Baltimore’s defense.”
Quick slants: Both offenses were struggling so badly in the first half that Jeff Feagles’ 68-yard punt early in the third quarter looked for a while like it may be the play of the game. … In addition to Charlton, Springs and Williams, the Seahawks listed tackle Chris McIntosh, linebacker Orlando Huff, tight end Russell Stewart and offensive lineman Dennis Norman on their inactive list. Defensive end Lamar King (foot) was active, but did not play. John Hilliard started in his place. … The Browns played without starting defensive end Courtney Brown (knee) and wide receiver Dennis Northcutt (clavicle). … The Seahawks used safety Curtis Fuller in nickel situations instead of cornerback Harold Blackmon. Both players are rookies. … Holmgren became the 28th coach in NFL history to record 100 wins, including postseason games.