SEATTLE - Marshawn Lynch's pregame message to Thomas Rawls was simple: "Look youngin', I'm passing you the torch for the day, you know what to do." Rawls' reply? "I got you, just like always, just like always."
That exchange came as the Seahawks learned they would be without their "Beast Mode" back for their Week 11 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers because of an abdomen injury that Lynch will have evaluated by a specialist later this week. His absence gave way to the rookie Rawls, who in his fourth start of the season again made the most of his opportunity, carrying 30 times for 209 yards, making three grabs for 46 yards, and scoring two total touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
"We're all just fired up about what Thomas Rawls did," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said following his team's 29-13 win over the Niners at CenturyLink Field. "To see a young guy come through and be so physical and so tough and to make the most of an opportunity, it shouldn't be a surprise to us because he's really played well when he's had his chance to start. I was thrilled with the way the guys rallied to help him. He'd be the first to tell you that the guys up front did a really good job today, run-blocking and making space for him and protecting in general, so a really fun day."
Rawls ran for 169 yards and a touchdown in Seattle's Week 5 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, meaning Sunday's win over the 49ers marked the first time in NFL history that an undrafted free agent has rushed for 160 or more yards twice in his rookie season. Rawls' 209 yards rushing broke Curt Warner's 1983 team record (207 yards) for most rushing yards by a rookie and also represents the second-highest rushing total in team history (Shaun Alexander had 266 in 2001). His 255 total yards from scrimmage are the third-most in franchise history, falling behind only Alexander's 273 in 2001 and Steve Largent's 261 in 1987. And finally, he's the first rookie in NFL history with 250-plus scrimmage yards, a rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in the same game.
"Exciting," Rawls said of his record day. "I keep saying it's gratifying because I show my gratitude for this game by playing hard and I never want to let anybody on this team down and that's why when I go out there I just try to give as much as I can, I try to play until I can't. I just don't want to let anybody down on this team. But to be named with those guys it's amazing because as you're young you're growing up watching these people and hearing these names and to be actually on the front stage of it and be a part of it, it's a great feeling."
It was evident Rawls was in for a big day from the start, when on Seattle's opening possession the rookie out of Central Michigan took a 1st-and-10 swing pass from quarterback Russell Wilson up the right sideline. Instead of going out of bounds as a 49ers defender closed in roughly five yards short of the first-down marker, Rawls chose to run through the contact, delivering a tone-setting type hit that toppled the defender and turned a short catch and run into a powerful 12-yard gain.
"That was an amazing play," Rawls said. "I think he thought I was going to go out of bounds, but little did he know I'm not running out of bounds, I'm looking for contact. It was an amazing throw by Russell, amazing play call by coach, and just executed.
>>> WATCH: Rawls Press Conference
"I've never ran out of bounds," Rawls added. "It's just my makeup, it's just my mentality, I think I would feel less of a person to just run out of bounds instead of just being physical and showing toughness and a different mentality at the running back position."
Carroll said that particular play showed why Seattle was so interested in signing Rawls after he went unselected in the 2015 NFL Draft.
"That's the stuff that jumped out when we were watching him as a college player, that he'll attack guys down the field," Carroll said. "To me, that was the first impression I got about Thomas, that's why I liked him from the start. He has that mentality about him. He's a very aggressive kid, and a very aggressive style of runner, and I think that's probably what we like the most about him."
The 12-yard catch and run helped the Seahawks open the scoring with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to rookie Tyler Lockett, but Rawls didn't have to wait much longer before he found the end zone himself. Later in the first quarter, Rawls had a 2-yard touchdown run to cap an 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive that put Seattle up 13-0.
"I think the best thing about Rawls is the way he works," said Wilson, who hit Rawls in the flat for a 31-yard touchdown catch and run in the fourth quarter. "You're not surprised because every time he comes to work, he comes full force. He's going to work his butt off, he's going to run to the end zone every time. He loves the game of football."
Rawls' game against the 49ers means he's now responsible for three of the Seahawks' four 100-plus-yard rushing efforts in 2015, with Lynch owning the other in Seattle's Week 7 win over San Francisco. Rawls averaged a healthy 7.0 yards per carry against the 49ers on Sunday and found most of his success when the Niners left six or fewer defenders in the box, a look Rawls saw on 16 of his 30 carries, netting nearly 10 yards per rush according to ESPN research notes.
"I think when a person is given an opportunity it's either you're going to rise to the occasion or it can go bad," said Rawls. "I just took advantage of every opportunity and as I'm out there it's not just me, it's receivers, it's the offensive line. So when we can play as one unit like that and get some great calls in by the coaches, there's nothing nobody can do to stop us because we're going to play tough, we're going to play relentless."
Rawls said he received the game ball for his big day, one he had team equipment manager Erik Kennedy "shining" up after the game.
"I'm going to frame it," Rawls said. "I'm going to send it back home, back to Flint, Michigan. Eight-one-oh, shout out to my city, man. I bet it's going crazy back home."
The sun was out, the 12s were out, and the Seahawks got it done at CenturyLink Field, sweeping their NFC West rival, San Francisco 49ers for the season with a 29-13 win.