Marshawn Lynch’s big day almost an afterthought

RENTON — On a day when Marshawn Lynch set a franchise record for rushing yards in a postseason game and scored the go-ahead touchdown late in regulation, the play that most symbolized what he means to the Seattle Seahawks might have been one in which he didn’t touch the ball.

Jermaine Kearse caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime, sending the Seahawks to a second straight Super Bowl while also landing on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, but that play doesn’t happen if the Packers don’t fear the threat of Lynch, who had carved them up for 157 yards on 25 carries.

Russell Wilson recognized a favorable matchup and checked out of a run play, then threw a perfect pass to Kearse, salvaging what had been a bad day for both, but Wilson doesn’t get that look if the Packers don’t have nine of their 11 defenders in the box to contain the threat of a run on first-down.

“He was huge,” Kearse said of Lynch. “His presence was definitely felt and he ran the ball hard, and it just shows the impact that he has on the game with the last play. We had a run play, and you saw how many people were lined up in the box — the whole team minus me and the defender. That just shows the impact that he has on the game. Players respect him enough to put ten guys in the box just to stop one player.”

Despite breaking his own franchise record for postseason rushing yards, and despite scoring a massive 24-yard touchdown to put Seattle on top late in the game, Lynch was almost an afterthought following Seattle’s 28-22 victory in the NFC championship game.

Part of that had to do with the insane nature of the game, and yes, some of it has to do with Lynch not being available after the game to talk about his performance. But one of the biggest reasons Lynch’s big day was overshadowed is the fact that it almost felt routine. That’s how good Lynch has been in his eighth NFL season.

As has been the case for his entire tenure in Seattle, Lynch seems to be getting even better in the playoffs. Not only did the most memorable run of his career come in a playoff game, Lynch has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of his nine postseason games.

Before Sunday, the franchise postseason rushing record was his 140-yard game against New Orleans last year. Before that, he shared the record (132 yards) with Shaun Alexander, and next on the list is Lynch’s 131-yard game against New Orleans in Jan. of 2011, a game he punctuated with his “Beast Quake” run.

According to the analytic website, Lynch has forced 10 or more missed tackles in four games this season, including 15 on Sunday when 110 of his 157 yards came after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, that’s the most in a postseason game since they started tracking the stat in 2007, and he also ranks second and third on that list with his two playoff games against New Orleans.

Want a non-statistical measure of how good Lynch was Sunday and how well he has played all season?

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the idea of Lynch going down at the 1-yard line rather than score the go-ahead touchdown “flashed through my mind as he broke the line of scrimmage.” The thought is understandable, because as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense showed, Lynch scoring with 1:25 remaining on the clock gave Green Bay enough time to tie the game.

But here’s the funny thing about Carroll’s thought process — and he swears the thought occurred right when Lynch broke through the line — when Lynch did break the line of scrimmage, there were still two defensive backs between him and the end zone and a linebacker in pursuit. Carroll, it seems, has seen enough of Lynch to just assume that once it comes down to Lynch versus defensive backs, the end zone is a foregone conclusion.

“He had a great game, he had a great game,” Carroll said. “We rushed for 143 yards in the second half. He had 120 (in the second half) and he was just alive–ripping. He had a couple catches too. It’s been an extraordinary season that he’s put out here, because he’s been so consistent for so long and he’s been so physically right for so long.

“He looked explosive again. He looked fast. His attitude is always there. He was able to take advantage of space and sometimes no space … He just would not go down and there were a couple great team finishes on plays too when he’s driving his legs and those guys jump up off the ground and knock the pile forward and get us four or five more yards sends a message of his style. He played fantastic again.”

Most of this year’s stories surrounding Lynch have had to do with everything but his play. Does he have issues with his coaches and management? Will the Seahawks cut him to save money? (That notion seems harder and harder to fathom with each big game, and just as important for a 28-year-old running back, with each week he is healthy). Will the NFL fine him for another, albeit more subtle, crotch grab on his way into the end zone, or for not talking to the media? Would he try to wear gold cleats Sunday even after the league threatened to not let him play if he wore them?

Less frequent is the discussion about how Lynch is having arguably the best season of his career at an age when most running backs begin their decline.

And let’s not kid ourselves, Lynch brings a lot of this on himself. He chooses to not fulfill his contract obligations by blowing off the media, he did indeed grab his crotch a couple of times — but seriously, is anyone actually offended by this? — and he did hold out at the start of training camp, fueling more speculation about his future.

But whatever amount of friction does or doesn’t exist between Lynch and his coaches, and it sure doesn’t appear like there is any right now, or whatever side you fall on in the ongoing Marshawn versus the NFL and the media saga, one thing is clear heading into this Super Bowl: The Seahawks are as reliant on Lynch and the running game as ever.

Facing a very good New England secondary in the Super Bowl, they just might need another huge postseason performance out of their star running back.

A big game which, given Lynch’s consistently great play this season, might be easy to overlook.

Herald Columnist John Boyle:

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