SEATTLE — After two games without Sidney Rice — and, perhaps not coincidentally, two losses — the Seattle Seahawks finally got a look at their multi-million dollar man on Sunday afternoon.
Certainly they had to like what they saw.
With Rice — a five-year, $41-million offseason acqu
isition — playing a huge role, Seattle’s offense got untracked just enough to pull out a 13-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field. Rice, a free agent who signed with the Seahawks after four seasons in Minnesota, had eight receptions for 109 yards in his first outing after missing two games with a shoulder injury.
“We saw the factor of Sidney playing,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “Sidney played very well today for his first time out. I was thrilled to see that he’s back.”
“I think we all know what Sidney is capable of doing,” agreed Seattle center Max Unger. “He’s a top-tier receiver in the NFL, and to have him healthy and to have him come out and play like that is just huge for us.”
Rice, who had 146 receptions and 18 touchdowns in his four Minnesota seasons, sat out Seattle’s first preseason game, played in the next two, and then got hurt again at practice in the days before the team’s preseason finale. He has a labrum tear in his shoulder, causing him to miss Seattle’s first two regular-season games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
Playing Sunday against the Cardinals “felt great,” Rice said with a grin. “Sitting on the sideline wasn’t getting it done at all. So I was happy to be out there and happy to be able to contribute to a win. A much-needed win.”
On Seattle’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson found Rice on a curl route for 9 yards. It hinted that Rice, who played four seasons with Jackson in Minnesota, was probably going to be a preferred target much of the day.
Having Rice back on the field “felt comfortable,” Jackson acknowledged. “Obviously we have a little history.”
Midway through the first quarter, Jackson spotted Rice running deep on the right sideline, defended 1-on-1 by Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson. Jackson’s pass gave Rice the opportunity for a leaping reception, and Rice was able to wrestle the ball away from Wilson for a 32-yard gain to the Arizona 12-yard line, setting up a Seattle field goal.
“That was a ridiculous throw and catch right there,” Carroll said. “He just believed in Sidney and gave him a chance. … He knows Sidney better than any of us.”
“If you get the ball in his area, he has great ball skills,” Jackson said. “Whenever he’s 1-on-1, it doesn’t matter if he’s in front of the guy or not. Just throw the ball up and most of the time he’s going to make the play. You can pretty much count on that.”
It was Jackson-to-Rice again in the third quarter, this time for 9 yards, setting up a first-and-10 at the Arizona 11. On the next play, Jackson scrambled to the end zone for Seattle’s only touchdown of the day.
“(Jackson) is very comfortable with me,” Rice said. “We’ve been together for the previous four years in Minnesota, so he knows where I’m going to be and things like that. So as long as he continues to have that confidence (in me) and I continue to make plays … I feel like things will go well.”
Seattle’s other offensive players, meanwhile, realize how much a healthy Rice will help the team this season.
“It takes some of the pressure off the other guys,” said wide receiver Doug Baldwin. “The offensive line, the quarterback and the other receivers. (The other team) has to put so much focus on Sydney Rice, and that gives us the opportunity to get 1-on-1 matchups (elsewhere). So it does a great thing for our offense.”
Against the Cardinals, Baldwin added, “we were a lot more effective (offensively) than we were the first two games. And obviously that just goes to show that Sydney’s back.”
Though the Seahawks still have a ways to go offensively this season — after all, they scored 13 points and had 261 yards, both modest totals — having Rice on Sunday was a huge step.
“This is a big deal to us to get him back on the field,” Carroll said. “He’s a fantastic football player and he’s going to make a difference for us. I’m so proud of him getting back and fighting through it.
“His attitude is perfect about getting back. He was trying to get back a week ago and we didn’t let him, (but) it’s just a champion’s mentality.”