When it happened, Jamal Adams didn’t even realize he had made history.
The New York Jets had second-and-10 at their own 36-yard line midway through the second quarter of Sunday’s 40-3 drubbing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold began scrambling to his left, eventually tucking the ball and making a dash for the sideline. Adams, Seattle’s strong safety, stepped up and dived at Darnold’s legs, compelling Darnold to step out of bounds for a 1-yard loss.
Because Darnold went out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage, and because Adams was the player who forced him out — even though Adams barely touched Darnold — Adams was credited with a sack.
No, it wasn’t the type of play that elicits trumpets as the game is stopped for an official presentation. But it was historic nonetheless as Adams became the NFL’s all-time sack king for a defensive back.
”I did not know!” Adams exclaimed after the game. “That’s the crazy part. I’ll be honest, I was going to do the Warren Sapp dance when I broke the record, and all I hear is (Seattle coach Pete Carroll) standing on the sideline when I chased Sam down going, ‘That’s a sack, that’s a sack, that’s a sack,’ and I’m like, ‘All right, next play.’ But then I came to the sideline and realized, ‘Oh, OK, I really did break the record.’ Not really my ideal of how I wanted to break it, but God is good, man.”
The sack gave Adams 8.5 this season. That broke the NFL single-season record for a defensive back of 8.0, set by Arizona’s Adrian Wilson in 2005. And while it may have been anti-climactic in the moment, it doesn’t diminish Adams’ accomplishment — or what he’s brought to the Seahawks’ defense.
“We don’t give game balls around here, we do other things, but today with the record that Jamal Adams set to be the all-time ever sacker as a defensive back was just worthy of a game ball to commemorate it,” Carroll said. “What a fantastic football player.”
There was a certain poetry to the fact that Adams broke the record against the team with which he had such an acrimonious split during the offseason. The sixth-overall pick in the 2017 draft, Adams was named first-team All-Pro after registering 6.5 sacks for the Jets last season. However, the relationship between Adams and the Jets soured past the point of reconciliation. The Seahawks paid a pretty penny to take Adams off New York’s hands, sending a package to the Jets that included two first-round draft picks.
Recently-fired Jets defensive coordinator predicted Adams would “get bored” in the Seahawks’ typically uncomplicated defensive scheme. But Seattle has continued to use Adams in the same blitzing manner, to great effect.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling when you put your mind to something, because I told myself and I told everybody I was going to break the record,” said Adams, who noted that he harbored no ill will toward the Jets organization. “Some people thought I was crazy, some people believed in me, but the only thing that mattered is that I believed in myself. I knew I was going to break the record, and without my teammates and without my coaches nothing would have been possible.
“I’ve been through a lot this year with the trade, injuries, a lot of negative talk about me,” Adams continued. “But at the end of the day I have an outstanding team, an outstanding group of teammates, outstanding group of coaches. It’s just one big family.”
It took a while for Adams’ new family to figure out how to fully integrate him into the fold. Seattle under Carroll has tended to eschew the blitz. Pro-football-reference.com ranked the Seahawks 28th in the NFL in blitz percentage in 2018 and 18th in 2019. This season Seattle ranks ninth, and the 33.7% is nearly double what it was two years earlier. Adams’ presence is no doubt a big part of that increase.
But it’s not enough just to tell Adams to go get the quarterback. The Seahawks also needed to figure out how best to deploy him. It wasn’t working early in the season when Adams was getting sacks, but Seattle was giving up passing yards at a rate never seen before in the NFL. But since Adams returned from his shoulder injury in Week 9 the Seahawks seem to be figuring things out, gradually improving defensively to the point where they gave up just three points and 185 yards to the Jets, both season lows. Sure, some of that can be chalked up to the level of competition, but some of is is learning the most effective ways to use Adams.
“We hadn’t settled in with our players,” Carroll said when trying to explain why Seattle’s defense has improved. “I do think it had to do with the offseason, I do think it had to do with camp, and it had to do with new guys, and it had to do with the unique new guys who brought special skills, and we had to figure them out. Then they were in and out of the lineup and there just wasn’t the continuity we needed. As soon as we started coming back with the same guys you could see it happening. We could see the potential of it and we kept talking to you about the potential of it, we just needed the time.”
Carroll didn’t mention Adams specifically, but it doesn’t require a decoder ring to figure out Adams is at the top of the list of players Carroll was talking about.
Adams has a chance to put the sack record out of reach. His 8.5 sacks came in just nine games, as he missed four games because of injuries, and he has three more games to pad his total.
And with Seattle’s defense getting better by the week, maybe Adams will get his chance to do the Warren Sapp sack dance on a more national stage during the latter stages of the postseason.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.