Despite the result of last Saturday's game inside the Georgia Dome, Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls walked off the field with a positive mindset.
"I came off smiling off the field a little bit because I was able to walk off the field," Rawls said earlier this week. "And God is good for that. He allowed me just to continue to grow and continue to move forward in my career and look at something else to work on and focus on."
This was especially important to Rawls after the injuries and setbacks he endured his first two seasons in the NFL. His rookie season ended in Baltimore because of a broken ankle, while injuries limited his second year in Seattle and forced him to miss seven regular season games. Rawls is a tough, punishing back who is never afraid to take a hit, but he admitted those pains had an impact on him.
"I think anybody who deals with injuries is going to be a little frustrated," Rawls said. "I know it comes as a part of the game, but I also know that you can overcome injuries. You can overcome those things in due time, and that's one thing I don't worry about because God has always been on my side with time."
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Rawls' injuries were a factor in his team being unable to find consistency throughout the season. The Seahawks didn't run the ball like they wanted to on offense, and not having Rawls, plus rookie C.J. Prosise for much of the season, contributed to that, as did the knee and ankle injuries to quarterback Russell Wilson, as well as the new and young group along the offensive line, which Seattle is counting on big improvement from in 2017.
"Thomas was banged up the whole time and it was hard for him to overcome it and get through it," Carroll said. "We saw what he's like when he's right and we were counting on Thomas being at that point when he returned, and unfortunately he broke his leg in the Rams game, differently than the other injury, so my hat is off to Thomas. How much more difficult can it be for a guy trying to get back and help his team? He finally gets back after all of the rigors of returning, then he gets hurt again and there he goes again, he's right back in it again. That's why it took awhile for him to get back, and when we did see him, you saw the player that we love, and we missed him during the year."
Rawls was still able to flash performances like the ones he had his first year, however. He ran for 106 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Seahawks' primetime win over Carolina, and set the franchise-record for yards in a playoff game in the Wild Card victory over Detroit with 161.
With injuries in the rear view mirror now, Rawls is excited for taking some time off before preparing for his first healthy offseason with the Seahawks.
"I'm looking forward to rest," Rawls explained. "I'm going to get a couple of weeks of rest, but also I want to take the time out to enjoy my offseason. I felt like as an individual, I worked so hard. I just want to enjoy my fruits and labor and just go out here and enjoy my time and ease my mind. Whenever it's time to get back into training, I'm going to do that. And just being smart off the field and continuing to help these other guys in my position."
Part of Rawls' role this offseason will be continuing to build relationships with his backfield teammates such as Prosise and another rookie, Alex Collins. Rawls said he plans to meet with them this summer to train and is looking forward to the work they'll be able to do as a unit.
"We're going to do a lot of work," Rawls said. "Actually, we were just talking about we're going to be able to be together this offseason and get some training in and make sure we hit the playbook hard, and make sure we stay real strong and healthy. I think that's our main focus, we got to get stronger in this backfield, along with myself. And that also comes along with being a leader and playing smart and just taking care of my body even more. I think I do a great job of it, but I don't want to over do it. I know what my job comes with, and that's the physical part of the game and my style of running, but I want to be a little bit smarter going into next year."
Even though the Seahawks' season didn't end the way Rawls and others hoped, he's excited about the team's future, but knows they have things to clean up if they want to go further in the postseason in 2017.
"We've got a lot to learn, we've got a lot of young guys, a young team," Rawls said.
"It's just all about staying focused, staying true to ourselves and understanding that we can get better. We don't have all the answers, we're going to keep pushing. Each goal, each week is to be the best us. Be a better team, push more, push harder, fight. That's the main goal and that's one thing that coach takes prides in and one thing we will continue to do."
Following their 36-20 season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.