CINCINNATI - The Seahawks boarded a series of buses at their team hotel on Sunday morning and traveled to Paul Brown Stadium for their Week 5 matchup with the Bengals, a normal transportation practice for each NFL gameday.
For Seattle rookie running back Thomas Rawls, though, the journey to Cincinnati's football field carried a not-so-normal twist. That's because Rawls had an estimated 80-90 people traveling roughly 300 miles south from his hometown of Flint, Michigan to see him play. The group included a mixture of friends and family who, like the Seahawks, traveled to the home of the Bengals by the busload.
"We didn't get the win, but at least they got a chance to see me play in person," Rawls said after Seattle's 27-24 overtime loss at Cincinnati. "And that's a great deal."
A great deal, kind of like the way Rawls ran the football for the Seahawks against the Bengals that afternoon.
Starting for the third consecutive week in place of injured running back Marshawn Lynch, Rawls racked up a career-high 169 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, good for a 7.3-yard average. It marked the most rushing yards by a Seahawks player since Shaun Alexander put up 201 in 2006 against the Green Bay Packers and the second-most ever by a Seattle rookie (Curt Warner, 207). Lynch's single-game rushing-high, if you're wondering, is 153 yards.
"Rawls was lights out today," said Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. "He played physical. He ran the ball extremely well. You saw his run. Like I said, it's not a surprise. The way he practices it transfers over to the game. He's a physical guy, a guy that loves to run the football."
The "run" Wilson mentions was in reference to the 69-yard score Rawls ripped off in the game's third quarter.
On the first play of Seattle's second possession of the second half, Rawls cut a 1st-and-10 run back toward the Bengals sideline, where he outran a trio of Cincinnati defenders - slipping a tackle from one - on his way to the end zone, staking the Seahawks a 17-7 lead after a Steven Hauschka extra point. The run measured the seventh-longest in franchise history and second-longest in the NFL this year.
"I trust my instincts and I trust those big boys up front," Rawls said of his rushing touchdown, the first for Seattle this season. " ... They did a great job of sealing the end and I cut back. And also Jermaine Kearse, he did a great job blocking on the left side and I got a chance to take it the distance."
Rawls' teammates at Central Michigan nicknamed him "Beast Mode" for the resemblance his play bears to Lynch, the NFL's leading rusher since 2011. Relentless, physical and patient, the Seahawks signed Rawls after the 2015 draft because they were attracted to his willingness to initiate contact, ability to finish runs, and a style that Seattle coach Pete Carroll has said he liked "more than anybody" he saw in the draft.
"Thomas ran like we hoped he would," Carroll said after Sunday's loss. "I thought he was pretty solid today."
Week 5 was Rawls' third straight game where he was asked to carry the load in the Seahawks' backfield. He had 16 carries for 104 yards against the Chicago Bears in Week 3 and 17 carries for 48 yards against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, when the team had a hard time getting the run game going.
Sunday's game at Cincinnati was Rawls' heaviest workload of the season with 23 totes, and while the offensive line opened up plenty of holes for him early, Rawls credited the Bengals for corralling him late in the game when the offense as a whole had a hard time moving the football.
"The defense, they started to key in on me a little bit more throughout the game," Rawls said. "They played a great game."
Carroll has said Lynch is "really close" to returning from the hamstring injury that has kept him out in recent weeks. That means "Beast Mode" could be back in action against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6 at CenturyLink Field. A healthy Lynch is sure to be the Seahawks' No. 1 option, but with what Rawls has accomplished in Lynch's place it's hard to imagine the rookie will be ignored in Seattle's offense moving forward.
"We pride ourselves on finishing and we didn't do a great job of it today," Rawls said. "But I can tell you, I trust these guys, I trust this whole organization that we're going to get back this week of preparation."