SEATTLE — For seven years, Richard Sherman was the Seattle Seahawks’ mouth that roared.
Sherman was the brashest member of an outspoken defense that dominated the NFL — and let the rest of the league know it. If there was trash to be talked, Sherman was happy to lend his lips.
But Seattle made sure Sherman was dialed down upon his homecoming as the Seahawks dominated the San Francisco 49ers 43-16 Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Sunday’s game was the All-Pro cornerback’s first trip to Seattle since signing with the 49ers during the offseason, and there was much anticipation of how Sherman, his former teammates and the fans would react. There was acrimony in the split that came when the Seahawks released Sherman following his season-ending Achilles injury, and during the week Sherman expressed lingering bitterness about the way his time with Seattle came to an end.
But there was little sign of bitterness before, during or after Sunday’s game as it seemed more like a lovefest than a snipefest. More hugging, less mugging.
“It was just a regular game,” Sherman said. “It’s just unfortunate we didn’t play as well as we could have. Had too many turnovers, gave up too many plays. That’s football and that’s kind of the way things have gone this season.”
In a game between mismatched teams where the result was all but official by Tuesday, Sherman’s return was elevated to the top of the marquee. But he was on his best behavior throughout. When the players were warming up two hours before the start, Sherman made the rounds in greeting the Seahawks, including a brief embrace with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, a player Sherman has been less than effusive about since his departure.
After the game Sherman hugged several of his former teammates and members of the Seahawks’ staff, including an excitable exchange with linebacker Bobby Wagner that concluded with smiles.
“We were just kind of talking trash,” Wagner said. “That’s my brother. It was an amazing time for us to play each other and see him on the opposite side in the other jersey that he looks ugly in.”
The most controversial thing Sherman said during his postgame press conference was about the visiting locker room at CenturyLink.
“It’s a little smaller,” Sherman said in a brief moment of levity. “They didn’t leave a lot of space over there for the visitors.”
Seattle clearly came into the game with the strategy of keeping the ball as far as possible from Sherman, one of the few playmakers on San Francisco’s defense. Wilson threw in Sherman’s direction just three times for two completions. The first came in the third quarter when Wilson threw a quick curl to Doug Baldwin for what should have been a short gain, but Baldwin spun out of Sherman’s tackle to pick up 21 yards and convert a second-and-21. The second came early in the fourth quarter, when Sherman had Jaron Brown covered on a corner route. However, Wilson scrambled to extend the play, and Brown darted inside past Sherman to catch an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Otherwise, Sherman spent most of Sunday watching the play from a distance.
The most absorbing moment of the game that involved Sherman didn’t even have Sherman as a participant. When Brown caught his first touchdown pass in the first quarter, the Seahawks’ receivers celebrated with a routine mimicking Sherman’s famous tip to teammate Malcolm Smith that clinched the NFC championship game against the 49ers, with Baldwin playing the role of Sherman. The routine was performed in the same corner of the same end zone where the original play took place in January of 2014.
The Tip: Part II pic.twitter.com/Kd1OAMFfjI
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 2, 2018
“It was a tribute to my boy,” Baldwin explained. “I know all you guys think that we are robots, that we are not humans and that we don’t have emotions. When you spend so much time with guys doing what we do, it’s hard, and you spend those hard days with guys that you love, and Sherm has obviously been one of those guys and has done so much for this organization. We thought it would be nice to give him the tribute if we had the opportunity to do so.”
For his part, Sherman said he didn’t even know the Seahawks pantomimed his past heroics in their celebration.
Before the game Sherman and Baldwin, whose friendship dates back to their time at Stanford University, chatted and played a little catch during warm-ups. Then after the game was over they met at midfield to exchange jerseys and conduct a longer conversation amid a sea of cameras.
“(The conversation) was about the same stuff: Family, how his mom is doing, his wife, how his body is feeling, things like that,” Sherman said. “Things that you ask a person when you talk all the time.”
Yep, this was the tempered version of Sherman, in part because the Seahawks gave him little occasion to roar.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.