A special victory

Posted Dec 12, 2011

Sparked by early plays from the special teams and the continuation of Marshawn Lynch's record run, the Seahawks celebrated their return to "Monday Night Football" with a 30-13 victory over the Rams.

It was a special night, as Marshawn Lynch continued to pound, slam and grind his way into the record books. But before the Seahawks’ Skittle-back took over, Doug Baldwin’s special efforts almost stole the show.

From Baldwin’s 37-yard return off a reverse on the opening kickoff, to his blocked punt that was returned by Michael Robinson for his first NFL touchdown, to Lynch’s 16-yard TD run that slapped an exclamation point on the evening, the still-surging Seahawks upped their record to 6-7 with a 30-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the first “Monday Night Football” game in Seattle since 2007.

Baldwin, a rookie free agent, played in his first MNF game. It was special, but he couldn’t allow it to change the way he has approached every game this season.

“A little bit,” he said when asked if there was extra motivation at CenturyLink Field on this Monday night. “I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. But at the same time, it’s just another game. For me, I’ve got to go out there and not do anything that I wouldn’t do normally. Just go out there and be consistent.”

Hmm. By that "just-another-game" standard, Baldwin failed miserably. Just check his primetime resume: the game-opening kickoff return, catching Jon Ryan’s punt at the 6-yard line and the blocked punt in the first quarter; a 29-yard TD reception in the third quarter; and a game-high seven catches for 93 yards.

“He just continues to do stuff,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Every chance you give him, he does something. He’s just a battler. He’s a great competitor and, I’ve said it before, he’s got a chip on his shoulder that drives him to be a tough guy and a playmaker.

“So we’ll put him in situations. I mean, look what he did.”

A little bit of everything, and then some.

Before all was said and run, however, Lynch had scored in his ninth-consecutive game, tying Shaun Alexander’s franchise record from 2005; run for 115 yards, his fifth triple-digit outing in the past six games; and inched closer (969 yards) to becoming the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Alexander, also in ’05.

“It’s great to have, but that win was a lot better than that streak,” Lynch said of moving in beside Alexander.

And that TD with 3 minutes to play really wasn’t supposed to happen anyway, as the Seahawks were in their four-minute offense and trying to run the clock rather than Lynch’s streak. Baldwin had a 12-yard reception on a third-and-7 play just before Lynch scored, and went out of bounds.

“For some reason, I don’t think me and Doug got the memo to stay inbounds,” Lynch said with a smile.  

The Seahawks now head to Chicago to face the big, bad Bears defense on Sunday, with a chance to pull themselves into the NFC playoff picture by evening their record at .500. This after starting the season 2-6. This because they’ve won four of their past five, which ties for the second-best second-half start in franchise history.

“We know how to win games,” Baldwin said after turning in an effort that was worthy of NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors – in the first quarter – and also adding to his team-leading totals in receptions (45) and receiving yards (718).

“Early in the season, we had a hard time playing four consistent quarters. Now we’re finding a way to do it consistently for four quarters, and it’s showing up.”

While Baldwin, Robinson and kicker Steven Hauschka (field goals of 42, 23 and 48 yards) were leading the special teams, and Lynch, Baldwin and Tarvaris Jackson (21 of 31 for 224 yards) were pacing the offense, the defense stretched that old bend-but-don’t-break line fiber-optic thin.

The Rams ran 10 goal-to-go plays in the second half, and came away with just a Josh Brown field goal and a Steven Jackson 1-yard TD run to show for it. The Seahawks held Jackson to fewer than 100 yards (63, on 20 carries for a 3.2-yard average) for the 15th-consecutive time. They also pressured sore-ankled QB Sam Bradford into a 12-of-29, 193-yard performance, and cornerback Brandon Browner intercepted his fourth pass in the past three games.

“We look forward to situations like that, especially goal-line stands just because we feel that we’re confident that we’re able to do what needs to be done to keep the team out of the end zone,” defensive tackle Alan Branch said.

“When we get in that situation, we kind of change our mindset to being excited and can wait for the play.”

On the goal-line stand in the third quarter, middle linebacker David Hawthorne and Branch stopped Jackson for no gain on first down; blitzing safety Atari Bigby pressured Bradford into an intentional-grounding penalty on second down; and Bradford third-down pass to Brandon Lloyd was short. That’s when Brown kicked a 29-yard field goal.

On the goal-line stand that played out like a never-ending story in the fourth quarter, end Chris Clemons and tackle Clinton McDonald stopped Cadillac Williams for no gain on first down from the 1; McDonald and free safety Earl Thomas stopped Bradford for no gain on second down; and Danario Alexander couldn’t handle Bradford’s third down pass in the back of the end zone. But rookie cornerback Richard Sherman was called for taunting, giving the Rams another chance.

Browner tipped away Bradford’s first-down pass; Bradford threw behind Alexander on second down; and Jackson finally found the end zone on third down.

“That’s coming up big,” said defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, the former Ram who got one of the Seahawks’ three sacks of Bradford. “To be down there that many times and that many plays, and to fight for that long, that just tells you where our defensive confidence level is and just the kind of guys we have in this locker room.”