GREEN BAY, Wis. — As the Green Bay Packers were introduced at Lambeau Field, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett stood on the grass near midfield and took it all in while his teammates were on the sideline. After months of diligent rehab, countless hours of training and mental hurdles, here he was standing back on a football field nine months after sustaining a devastating injury.
As the Seahawks opened the 2017 regular season against the Packers, Lockett made his return to game action after a serious leg injury ended his 2016 campaign right before the team entered the postseason. The third-year wide receiver skipped the preseason and officially suited back up Week 1.
"It was a blessing to be back," Lockett said. "You never know how long you have to play this game, so you go out there and play as if it were your last every single week. It was good to be back."
In the passing game, Lockett caught one pass for eight yards against the Packers but was targeted three times by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He said the game didn't feel like anything out of the ordinary to him despite the ramifications.
"Obviously it's the same game you've been playing as a kid, so it's not like anything is different or I consider this game to be bigger than any other game, it's still a game at the end of the day," Lockett said. "I was just preparing myself to pick up where I left off last year.
"When you get ready to play, you just get ready to play. You never know what's going to happen and you've got to wait for the opportunities. Once the opportunities present themselves, take advantage of it. That's exactly what I was doing, going out there and seeing what ways I can help the team win."
Lockett made a big impact as a returner for the Seahawks, a role that landed him Pro Bowl honors his rookie season. On the opening kickoff, Lockett recorded a 43-yard return that helped Seattle set up shop at their own 39. He returned three total kickoffs on the day for 91 yards (30.3 average) and one punt for seven yards.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Lockett actually played a lot more than they originally expected and made his presence felt on Sunday.
"I thought Tyler was good in the return game, he gave us a little spark there," Carroll said postgame. "He looked great. He was able to play quite a bit in the game, probably a little bit more than we thought he would. He got enough plays."
Lockett wasn't the only Seahawks player to make his regular season return after a serious injury. Safety Earl Thomas played in the preseason but was back on the field for the real thing on Sunday after a gruesome lower leg fracture against the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 4.
Coming back on his father's birthday, Thomas made a number of impact plays against the Packers on Sunday. In the first half, Thomas' All-Pro instincts sniffed out a pass in the flat to Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson and made a clean open field tackle that limited the play to just one-yard. Later, Thomas broke up a deep pass Rodgers threw intended for wide receiver Davante Adams and nearly recorded an interception.
"My own teammate kicked it out of my hand, so I had it, he just kicked it," Thomas recalled about the play. "It's just a game of inches and this game is always so funny in that way. Hopefully next time I can capitalize."
In the third quarter, Thomas shot down like a missile from the secondary and put a hit on Packers running back Ty Mongtomery that sent him flat on the ground. All three of the plays are nothing out of the norm of what Thomas usually brings to the game.
Added Thomas: "I'm happy to finish the game healthy, I'm happy to have my speed still and still make plays against the so-called best quarterback in the league. I'm excited about going forward."
"I thought Earl was all over the place," Carroll said. "He played really well."
The Seahawks didn't put together the best performance as a team in their season debut, but the encouraging performances from Lockett and Thomas were bright spots on a disappointing afternoon in Green Bay.
The Seahawks fall 9-17 in their first game of the 2017 season against the Green Bay Packers.