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Before Thursday night’s preseason finale, Pete Carroll told his younger players that this one was on them.
And those players did not disappoint their coach as they turned in the plays that allowed the Seahawks to put the finishing touch on an unbeaten preseason with a 21-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field that was even more convincing than the lopsided final score.
“We knew tonight was going to be a big night for us,” said rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane, whose second-quarter interception setup a field goal. “Pete Carroll told us, ‘Make sure you go out there and give it your all.’ And we all did.”
Where to start with the efforts of those young players who helped the Seahawks finish 4-0 for only the second time in franchise history? At the top, with first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin.
Stat-less in the first three preseason games, Irvin forced a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by second-round pick Bobby Wagner. The all-rookie play setup Steven Hauschka’s first field goal, and what proved to be a big night for Irvin.
On a night when the Seahawks’ veterans played sparingly, if at all, Irvin also shared a sack with second-year cornerback Byron Maxwell in the third quarter and then got one of his own in the fourth – just before rookie defensive lineman Jaye Howard got to Raiders’ running back Mike Goodson in the end zone for a safety-producing tackle.
“I kept working, and they finally came,” Irvin said, unable to contain a series of grins as he sat in front of his cubicle in the locker room. “I’ve been busting my butt all preseason and I felt like I got better each game. I finally broke the ice tonight.”
Or melted it, with the amount of pressure he generated on the Raiders’ quarterbacks.
“I must have said a real good prayer tonight before the game,” Irvin said. “Everything was working in my favor. We had a great week of practice, and it really showed tonight.”
Did it ever. From almost start to almost finish, this one belonged to the 2012 rookie class and the other young players who were given the opportunities to turn in big plays.
Second-year running back Vai Taua had a 2-yard touchdown run to cap a 78-yard drive in which he ran for 39 yards on six carries and added 15 more on two receptions. Rookie tight end Cooper Helfet, who was released in May and then re-signed in late July, capped a 90-yard scoring drive by catching a 4-yard TD pass from Matt Flynn. The Seahawks’ top five tacklers for a defense that limited the Raiders to 101 yards and five first downs – and scored for the third time in four preseason games – were second-year linebackers Allen Bradford (five) and Malcolm Smith (four), second-year safety Jeron Johnson (three) and Irvin and Wagner (three each).
Taua also caught five passes to finish as the team’s leader in the preseason with nine.
“He did a really good job tonight,” Carroll said of Taua, who played running back as well as fullback and made plays from both spots until a strained knee ligament forced him to the sideline.
Said Taua, “It’s easy when your offensive linemen are getting push like that. It makes it a lot easier, so all the credit goes to them. They did everything that they could do. For me, there is still for improvement. And that’s a good thing.”
As for the quarterbacks, Russell Wilson completed 5 of 11 passes for 72 yards in his first start since being named the starter last Sunday. Flynn, who was unable to play in last week’s game at Kansas City because of a sore right elbow, was 11 of 13 for 102 yards – including completing each of his five passes, to four different receivers, on the 90-yard drive that ended with his TD pass to Helfet.
“I thought he was solid as a rock,” Carroll said of Flynn. “He hit almost everything. … We have a terrific quarterback position right now. I’m really happy about it.”
The efforts of the younger players also proved timely, because the 75-man roster must be cut to 53 players on Friday.
“We have some very difficult decisions to make to fit this roster together,” Carroll said. “It’s good when you have tough decisions. That’s what we tried to structure this thing to get it to that point. I’m pleased that we’re going to be fighting for guys.”
Because those guys came out fighting for their coaches, teammates and team in the preseason finale.