After racing 62 yards to put the exclamation point on an impressive Seahawks victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Rashaad Penny paced on the Seahawks sideline, both soaking in the love from his teammates and coaches, and also letting out four years' worth of frustration.
As captured by cameras filming Seahawks All Access, Penny shouted, "all y'all (expletives) doubted me!" a call-out to the three-plus years of negativity and insults hurled his way, mostly via social media, as injuries continuously derailed his NFL career.
Over the final five weeks of the season, injuries to Chris Carson and Alex Collins opened the door for Penny to finally take over the starting role, and as his own health allowed him to keep it, Penny has not just thrived in a manner that made him look every bit like the first-round pick he was in 2018, he also continued to always stay humble about his success and give credit to everyone but himself.
Whether it was rushing for a then career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns at Houston in Week 15, or rushing for 135 yards two weeks later, or topping those games with 170 yards and two touchdowns against Detroit and 190 yards against Arizona, Penny heaped praise on everyone but the man carrying the ball. He thanked his linemen for opening running lanes; he thanked his coaches, particularly running backs coach Chad Morton, for getting him ready for this moment; he thanked future Hall of Fame Back Adrian Peterson who immediately had a positive influence on Penny and the rest of the running backs after signing to Seattle's practice squad in December; and he thanks Pete Carroll and the entire organization for sticking with him through so many ups and downs.
But after punctuating yet another career-best performance to cap one of the best five-games stretches by a running back in team history, Penny let out a little of that pent up frustration, and who can blame him? For nearly four full seasons, Penny has heard just about every insult from bust to injury prone to soft, and while he eventually made the wise decision to get away from social media, but the insults still add up, even for a professional athlete who seemingly is living the good live.
"I just feel like people don't know what we actually go through," Penny said earlier in the season. "I think people forget we're human sometimes, honestly.
So yes, for a moment at least, Penny let loose, a man who was, as Duane Brown called out on the sideline, "Tired of being humble! Tired of being humble!"
Of course, Penny's 2021 season did not start off in a way that would have caused anyone to predict the way it finished. Through three seasons, Penny had appeared in only 27 games with no starts, and had rushed for a total of 823 yards and five touchdowns due to injuries minor and major. Penny's rookie year got off to a slow start due to an injury in training camp, and while he played 14 games he never was able to carve out a significant role for himself in the offense. That began to change late in the 2019 season and it appeared the Seahawks were finally going to see the one-two punch of Chris Carson and Penny that Pete Carroll had been hoping to deploy since the Seahawks drafted Penny, but then he went down with a torn ACL, an injury that not only derailed that progress, but that caused him to miss all but three games last season. Penny also believes that injury caused some of the nagging injuries that followed like the calf strain that landed him on injured reserve early this season, and the hamstring injury that occurred after he opened his first career start with a 19-yard run, then missed the next game.
At that point, a lot of people figured Penny might have played his last game as a Seahawk, with one final injury closing out four seasons that were frustrating to him and the team that drafted him. But the Seahawks stuck with Penny, and after he rushed for a hard-fought 35 yards on 10 carries against a tough 49ers defense, a game that also included a 27-yard reception and a memorable blitz pickup. And while that game wasn't particularly memorable, it launched a stretch that saw Penny become, by just about any measure, the most productive back in the league.
Over his final five games, Penny rushed for 671 yards, the most in the league over that span, averaging 7.3 yards per carry over that span while scoring six touchdowns. Penny also had 8 runs of 25 or more yards over those five games, which were tied for the most such runs in the entire season, with Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor, a Pro-Bowler the NFL's leading rusher, also having eight runs of 25 or more yards, doing so on 332 carries.
Penny's 190-yard game against Arizona was the second-highest rushing total in a game this season behind Dalvin Cook's 205-yard game in Week 14, and Penny is one of only two players with multiple 170-yard games this season along with Taylor, who had three, and he's one of three players along with Taylor and Derrick Henry, to have three games with 135 or more yards this year.
"When does that happen in our league?" Carroll said Sunday of Penny's 360 yards in the past two games. "That doesn't happen… You can't tackle him. He tied for the most 25-plus yard gains in the season this year with Jonathan Taylor, who's up for MVP and all that kind of stuff. I think he's got eight of them. If he had a little bit of a longer field a couple of times, he would have had that. He did it in a third of as many attempts (as Taylor). That's crazy stuff and it just validates how effective he's been."
Penny also put himself in rare company in team history. His 190-yard game Sunday was the seventh-highest rushing total in team history, a number exceeded by only Shaun Alexander (three times), Thomas Rawls and Curt Warner (twice), and he's the fourth player, along with Alexander, Warner, Chris Warren to rush for 170 yards more than twice as a Seahawk, and the first to do it in consecutive games.
Yet for all he accomplished over the past five weeks, validating his status as an elite back while also helping himself out with free agency pending, Penny doesn't feel like his recent success is a career pinnacle, but rather the start of him showing the kind of back he can be.
"I think this is really the start of my journey," Penny said Monday. "It has been a long time coming, it's been a frustrating one, but these guys have had my back through it all. I'm really thankful to be around a great organization and they showed that there was no quit in me, they pushed me, and they kept pushing me, so I'm just thankful for what I have been doing over this past month or so."
And while both Penny and the Seahawks will have decisions to make when it comes to money and cap space, the hope on both sides is that he can build off of this recent success while still wearing a Seahawks uniform in 2022 and beyond.
"It's just the way they handle business," Penny said. "I've never been anywhere else, and I pray I don't, but it's just the way they handled things. Through the time I've been here, I've battled injuries, and they just never gave up on me. I think it showed yesterday and this whole month, that they kept sticking with me sticking with me, and then finally, they really believed in me that they carry the load for the RBs with the few injuries we had. So I'm thankful for that, and I really love this place. The training staff does an amazing job with us, the medical guys and girls, they really look after us. I love being here."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' 38-30 win vs. the Arizona Cardinals on January 9, 2022 at State Farm Field. Eye On The Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.