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The legs of the franchise
It was the run that shocked the NFL, shook the ground at CenturyLink Field and stymied the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
But Marshawn Lynch’s electrifying 67-yard touchdown run to ice the Seahawks’ 41-36 victory over the Saints in a 2010 wild-card playoff game also laid the groundwork for what the Seahawks have become in their fourth season under coach Pete Carroll – which is, the team with the best record in the NFC at 10-1 and a comfortable lead in the NFC West as the Seahawks head into their final five regular-season games.
“There are so many good things that come from running the football,” Carroll has said on numerous occasions. “It adds to the mentality of your team. It adds to the toughness of your football club that you present.
“Because you’re always going to play tough defense, hopefully. We’re always going to be tough in special teams. But you can be other than that on offense if you don’t run the football. We want to be a physical, aggressive, tough, get-after-you football team. And running the football is where we can send the biggest message about that commitment to that.”
Lynch’s run through, around and even over the Saints’ defense on Jan. 8, 2011, is once again a hot topic – not to mention must-see video – because the Seahawks are hosting the Saints in a “Monday Night Football” matchup at CenturyLink Field. It’s the Saints’ first trip back to Seattle since Lynch made the earth move, and the first matchup between the teams that now have the best records in the NFC since that memorable Saturday afternoon almost three years ago when the Seahawks were just a hint of the team that are now.
Only 12 members of the team that met the Saints in the wild-card game remain on the team that will face the Saints tonight in a game that is dripping with postseason implications – free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor and linemen Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Brandon Mebane on defense; punter Jon Ryan and snapper Clint Gresham on special teams; and wide receiver Golden Tate, linemen Max Unger, Breno Giacomini and Lemuel Jeanpierre and Lynch on offense.
But those who were there – and even those who weren’t – have vivid memories of Lynch breaking or running through eight tackles before making his now-infamous backward flop into the south end zone to make it 41-30 with 3½ minutes remaining.
Unger was on injured reserve, but also on the sideline.
“It was ‘17 Power,’ right up the gut, and a play you usually don’t expect to pop for 67 yards,” he said. “They call those little-bigs, where it can be a little play – a couple-yard gain – or it can be a bigger gain.”
But not that big. “That was insane,” Unger said. “The fact that people are talking about it three years later, I don’t know what I can add to that.”
Earl Thomas, now an All-Pro free safety, was a rookie and also on the sideline when Lynch made the earth move.
“I remember seeing him when he made the initial move through the line and thinking, ‘OK, that’s a good run,’ ” he said. “Then I had to do a double-take, because this guy is still up. The next thought to go through my mind was, ‘I cannot believe this dude isn’t going down yet.’ It seemed like he made six, seven people miss. And that’s crazy.
“I remember asking him what he was feeling in that exact moment and Marshawn said, ‘You don’t feel nuthin’. It’s just a blank.’ And I can totally relate to that because it’s just flow. You’re just in the flow of the game, the flow of the moment.”
And that, to Thomas, is the sign of a great player.
“That’s something great players have in common,” Thomas said. “They do all their thinking at practice and they get their strategy during the week, and they just let it rip during the game.
“Marshawn said something that stuck out to me. He said, ‘On every run, anything can happen. It’s just about how you see it and how you react.’ That goes a long way. And that’s Beast Mode. That’s why he got that nickname.”
Richard Sherman, the Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback, was a long ways from CenturyLink Field when Lynch went all Beast Mode on the Saints. He was still at Stanford and in the Cardinal locker room in Palo Alto, a few months away from joining the Seahawks as a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. But Sherman definitely saw Lynch’s run, and definitely could not believe what he was seeing.
“That was crazy,” Sherman said. “What he did to the corner (Tracy Porter) is abuse in at least three states in America right now. You can’t just throw another grown man like that. I was surprised he didn’t press charges on him. You can get stiff-armed, but you can’t get thrown 10 yards down the field.”
Sherman was laughing as he said that. But there was nothing funny about the way Lynch shredded the Saints’ defense on his way to the end zone.
“Now that Marshawn is my teammate, I see it more routinely. But I’m still amazed by it,” Sherman said. “Marshawn is an amazing, amazing player. You don’t know what you’re going to get next from him. Like the play in Houston this season. Like the play in Atlanta this season. You think you’ve got him, then you don’t.
“And it’s not even the one thing he’s doing, it’s everything he’s doing – he’s stiff-arming, he’s running through people, he’s sliding through, he’s ducking under people. He’s doing everything and anything he can to grind and fight for those extra yards. And that’s definitely what he did on that run against the Saints.”
Golden Tate also was a rookie that season, and has become the Seahawks’ leading receiver and one of the top punt returners in the league this season. Tate was on the sideline for Lynch’s run against the Saints, but it definitely made an impression on him as he watched in disbelief.
“That was just Marshawn literally turning into Beast Mode,” Tate said, shaking his head. “He showed his passion for the game. He didn’t want to go down, and he didn’t go down. It seemed like he stiff-armed or broke a tackle from every member of the defense.
“For him to break all those tackles and then run for 67 yards on top of that, you’ve got to have some serious leg strength. His leg strength is just phenomenal.”
Noah Clark wasn’t just sitting in section 229 that day; he was a solider on a two-week leave from Afghanistan and attending his first game at the stadium that opened in 2002.
“This whole place was on fire. It shook,” Clark said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was going to go down, and he then didn’t. And then he didn’t. And then he broke another tackle. And then another tackle, and another tackle, and another tackle.
“That was all Marshawn, and it was fabulous.”
Then, and now.