HOUSTON—The Seahawks were in control of Sunday's game by the time Rashaad Penny took his 16th and final handoff from Russell Wilson, but while Seattle was only looking to burn a little more clock, Penny instead put an exclamation mark on what was the best game of his NFL career.
With the Seahawks already leading the Texans by two scores with 5:35 left in the game, Penny took a handoff from Wilson, shed one tackle at the line of scrimmage, then used his speed to outrun the rest of Houston's defense, a 47-yard score that punctuated a 33-13 win over the Texans, and that capped a career-best game for the fourth-year back, who finished with 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Penny finished his second touchdown run with a subdued celebration with tight ends Gerald Everett and Colby Parkinson, then stood took a moment in the back of the end zone, seemingly either exhausted after another long run, or perhaps more likely, just soaking in the moment.
It's been a tough four years for Penny, who arrived in Seattle as a first-round pick who had a completely clean health record at San Diego Statue, but who has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, ranging from nagging muscle strains to things as serious as a torn ACL, which ended his 2019 season just as he was starting to take on a big role in the offense that season.
Penny's bad injury luck continued into this year, leading to a stint on injured reserve with a calf injury, then after he returned, a hamstring injury that kept him out of Seattle's Week 12 game in Washington. But Penny came back from that injury with a solid game last week that included 62 yards from scrimmage, and then getting the start on Sunday, he came through with a monster performance.
"He was running so hard and of course the big plays that exploded," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He was running tough and everything. We've been waiting for a little juice from the run game, and it was really there today in a big way. I'm not sure but it seems like that's the only time he's really come back to back maybe in the last two years… To see him come back and play again, was the accomplishment. So now, we got to get him back this week and get him back out there and hopefully he will feel good about it and be able to contribute in a big way again."
Penny's performance wasn't just the result of his perseverance, hard work and talent, but also, as he pointed out, in Seattle's coaches sticking with him despite all the injuries.
"I'm just blessed and thankful," Penny said. "These guys never gave up on me. I go out to practice every and just keep working, and this is the result. I'm just thankful. The O-line deserves this more than I do… They controlled the game."
As much as Penny enjoyed this breakout performance, his teammates who have seen him struggle through so many injuries might have been even happier for him.
"Just to being able to see Penny go out there and be able to ball, it was amazing, because people don't understand the injuries part of the game and the mental and the physical," said receiver Tyler Lockett. "… Just being able to see him come out there, seeing him play and break some really big plays, being able to score touchdowns, that was something that was real big for him, because people saw glimpses and flashes of what he could do last week. And that's something that we always knew that he could be able to do. Now I think he's in his groove. I think he's became the person he wants to be as an individual. And the way that he ran that ball, he was making a statement."
Penny acknowledged that his last two years have been a "mental and emotional roller coaster" to the point that he at times questioned his future in the game.
"(There were) days where you'd be like, 'Should I continue to play football?'" he said. "And then other days where you just be like, 'I've got to go in and do what's best for me.' Man, it's been hard, hamstring strains, calf strains, but I just put my head down and just kept moving forward."
Part of moving forward for Penny has been staying away from the negativity that has been directed his way on social media as he's dealt with injuries throughout his career.
"I think social media was the biggest problem my first two years," he said. "I always focused on what other people thought about me. And I started realizing, half the people really don't know who I am, don't know who Rashaad Penny is, don't know what Rashaad Penny does with his day. At the end of the day, I'm still human and everybody else who gets hurt and goes on social media and look their names up and see what people are saying about them, it can be the worst things possible, and it can tear somebody down; that's what it did to me."
And with one highly productive—and just as importantly, healthy—game under his belt, Penny is looking forward to following up on this performance and showing what he's capable of when healthy and given an opportunity.
"I'm really not satisfied with how I played, because I know what I can do, and I'm pretty sure everyone else knows what I can do," he said. "It's all about staying on the field for me. I'm just thankful I came out of this game injury free."