The night before what would end up being a dominant victory over the Carolina Panthers, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made a prediction of sorts to his players in a team meeting. In his third game back from the leg injury that caused him to miss seven games, running back Thomas Rawls was, as Carroll told his team, ready to "explode."
Rawls had played in Seattle's previous two games, but he wasn't quite his usual self, especially not in Tampa Bay last week after a larger-than-expected workload the previous week in his first game back. But throughout the week of practice, Carroll and the Seahawks saw a different version of Rawls. Actually, it wasn't so much a different version as the one they remembered seeing during Rawls' spectacular rookie campaign.
"The difference was all through the week," Carroll said after his team's 40-7 victory over the Panthers. "His preparation was right on point and his mentality and the physical side, you could see him, he was just quicker from Wednesday on. Every day he was at practice he was on it. You could see it, you could just tell it was coming. I talked about him in the team meeting last night that we could see Thomas really go and explode because he had had such a great week of preparation. I think he finally felt like he was fully back. He demonstrated it. I thought his runs were fantastic tonight, all kinds of different styles. He made some cuts that were just crazy. It was great to see that."
Rawls backed up his coach's prediction with a big performance, rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, including a 45-yard score in the second quarter.
And even more encouraging for Seattle's offense going forward is that Rawls wasn't the only member of Seattle's offense to have a breakout game of sorts in a lopsided win. After being held without a catch last week, Tyler Lockett hauled in five catches for 63 yards, helped set up a touchdown with a 46-yard kickoff return, and he scored on the first play of the second half, taking a handoff from Russell Wilson on a jet sweep and racing down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
"That sideline run he had, I don't think I've ever seen anybody run faster on the football field," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "That was unbelievable. I'm so happy for him. He struggled through those injuries, and for him to be back doing what he's doing, it's unbelievable. I'm extremely happy for his success right now."
Added Carroll: "I don't know that I've seen a guy look faster than when he finished that run tonight. (Panthers safety Michael) Griffin was going to run him down for a second—he know he had an angle on him and Tyler didn't let it happen. He looked just unbelievably fast to me from the sidelines. It was a thrill to see that play."
Lockett looking "unbelievably fast" and Rawls playing like the 2015 version of himself is a big deal for the Seahawks offense as it heads into the final quarter of the season. Both players enjoyed spectacular rookie seasons, with Lockett earning Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors as a returner, and with Rawls leading the NFL in rushing yards per carry after taking over for an injured Marshawn Lynch, but neither has had the impact this season that they or the Seahawks would have hoped for heading into the year.
Rawls battled his way back from the broken ankle that ended his 2015 season and was able to play in the season opener, only to go down with a fractured leg in Seattle's Week 2 loss to Los Angeles, causing him to miss two months of the season. Lockett, meanwhile, sprained his knee in that same game against the Rams, and while he was able to play through the injury, he wasn't his usual explosive self for a few weeks following the injury.
Lockett's injury hasn't been a factor for a while, both he and Carroll have said, but for various reasons, he just hasn't been as involved in a game the way he was on Sunday.
"He took advantage of the opportunities," Carroll said. "He is well, he's healthy now. It took him a long time, probably the last couple weeks he's been right… He's a great football player. Give him the opportunity and he's going to show you that.
"He's a great competitor. This is one of the most competitive guys on our team, by the way he works and how he applies himself. He is so consistent. He's just a beautiful illustration of the kinds of guys we love on our team. There is nobody that will outwork him, there is nobody that's on the field longer than him, and that's been since the day he got here. He's never wavered. When he was hurt, he worked his way through it. He never felt like he was going to miss. He made the adjustments he had to make to play when he wasn't quite 100 percent and still contributed and played well. It just shows in his play; he's always ready to make something happen. Now that he's back and going, this was a great night to demonstrate that."
Rawls wanted to get back from his injury and help the team as quickly as possible, but he can also admit now that he wasn't quite right in those first two games back.
"With certain types of injuries, you just need to trust the process," he said after the game. "You may not be able to get it all when you want. You have to keep working, keep grinding and get it piece by piece."
Rawls said that when he woke up Sunday morning, he knew he was ready for a big game.
"I was feeling loose, I felt different," Rawls said. "I felt lighter on my feet, I could make some cuts I wasn't making at first. Just trusting my eyes and my vision, and also those big boys up front. If you go back the past couple of games, you probably didn't see the cuts I was making this week. It just comes from hard work and preparation.
I never lost myself, but sometimes when my mind was telling me one thing, by body was saying something different."
For Lockett, this season has been trying at times, but it was also a learning experience he says will help him in the long run.
"I think it taught me a lot," he said. "The biggest thing that I learned is that I have to continue to keep on fighting. I never had a season like this with the injuries that I've had earlier on. It seems like sometimes you feel like you want to give up. You question everything and you don't know what's going on, and for me I just had to continue to depend on my faith and continue to press on. The biggest thing is that I just had to continue to fight and continue to press in and continue to accept the game plan and everything that the coaches were doing and just trust it. I knew that it was going to come and it came today.
"(The injury) was frustrating, but I just had to trust the process and I had to enjoy the process along the way. Sometimes I look back and think, 'Man, I was hurt in week two and now look.' You see the fight and you see the passion that you had to be able to get yourself back in the lineup and to get yourself right."
Check out some of the best action photos from Week 13 at CenturyLink Field vs the Panthers.