Over the last four games, Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny has rushed for 346 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries, good for a robust 6.4 yards per carry average.
Those numbers, impressive as they maybe, are not what stand out most about Penny's recent play, however.
Yes, that is the kind of production the Seahawks would like to see out of a running back taken late in the first round of the 2018 draft, but as Penny noted after rushing for 135 yards and a score on 17 carries in Seattle's Week 16 loss to the Bears, what matters most for him right now is not the production, but just the fact that he has strung together four straight games, three of them starts, in which he played four quarters, carried the ball a significant amount, and came out of it healthy.
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Four three-plus seasons, Penny's career has been unfortunately defined by injuries, from the nagging muscle pulls and strains that have popped up here and there over the years, to the torn ACL late in the 2019 season that caused him to miss most of last year as well. But now, finally, and perhaps just in time to land him a decent contract in free agency either with the Seahawks or elsewhere, Penny is showing that he can be both productive and also reliable week after week.
"The yards, touchdowns, I'm going to be honest, have never meant anything to me since college," Penny said. "It's a blessing, I'm thankful. Again, I don't really deserve that much, leaning on the O-line who can do it every week. Just coming out and being able to take as much as I did, I'm thankful for that. It was a big milestone for me because, again, my whole career has been derailed with small little injuries or small things. Finally, for four games straight, I was able to just keep going and keep continuing for the last few weeks."
Penny's 2021 season looked for much of the fall like it was heading down the same road as his first three, but after a stint on injured reserve with a calf injury, he got a chance to start against Green Bay with Alex Collins dealing with an abdomen injury and with Chris Carson on IR. But after gaining 19 yards on Seattle's first offensive play of the game, Penny hobbled off with a hamstring injury and missed the next game, and it started to look like his Seahawks career may never get on track as he headed into the final games of his rookie contract.
Penny got another shot in Week 13, however, and while he was limited to 35 yards on 10 carries, he ran hard against a tough 49ers defense, and also added a 27-yard reception. The following week in Houston, Penny rushed for a career-high 137 yards and two scores. Then he started again vs. the Rams last week, carrying 11 times for 39 hard-fought yards against one of the NFL's stingiest run defenses.
"There's no doubt he is a factor," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He looked big-time running the football today, and he busted a number of different types of runs and hit some different style runs that were great to see him break tackles and get out, and that's a ton of yards for him to get in that game. I don't know if it was seven yards a carry or something like that, whatever it was. It's really great to have him back. He is legit."
Said quarterback Russell Wilson, "Rashaad Penny had an unbelievable game… He's had three or four great games. He has been battling… This game was exceptional. Just how he was running the ball, how physical he was, that was really cool to see. He has put the work in, and I think any time you put the work in, a lot of times it comes to fruition at some point. It may not always be right away or maybe later, whatever it is, but he has been doing it his whole career trying to get back and trying to play at the high level that he knows how to, and I think that it's been cool to see. It's been one of the highlights watching Rashaad Penny run the ball."
Of course Penny's late-season surge has made the question of 2022 a more interesting one. The free-agent running back market is tough to predict, particularly for a player with Penny's history, but he has shown a lot of big-play ability and physicality in recent weeks that makes a return to Seattle seem a lot more likely than it might have a month ago.
"He looks really good playing ball, and we need him on our team," Carroll said when asked about Penny's future beyond this season.
Asked if he thought he had played his way into a future in Seattle, Penny said, "I hope so. I come out to win games and help contribute. I think that's the number one thing for me. Again, staying injury free and just being positive and doing whatever it takes to help win. That's all it is.
"I knew what I can do. Again, it was just that I was never on the field. It's unfortunate, but I'm thankful for whatever I've been doing these last few weeks and I couldn't have done it without these guys giving me opportunity to show what I can do and just never giving up on me."
The Seattle Seahawks take on the Chicago Bears at Lumen field for Week 16 of the 2021 season. This album will be updated throughout the game. Game Action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.