Early in the second quarter of Seattle's Week 15 game against the 49ers, Poona Ford shot past his blocker and into the 49ers backfield where he tackled Jeff Wilson Jr. for a 1-yard loss. In the third quarter, Ford did it again, tackling Matt Breida for a 3-yard loss. Finally, in overtime, Ford recorded his third tackle for loss in the game, and sixth tackle overall, dropping Breida for a 5-yard loss.
After two of those plays, Ford celebrated by rubbing his belly with a big grin on his face, and who can blame the rookie defensive tackle for enjoying himself and celebrating a few big plays. After all, there are plenty of people who didn't think Ford would be on an NFL roster right now, let alone making big plays for a playoff-contending team.
Despite a very productive career at the University of Texas that included being named the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year in 2017, Ford went undrafted, not because a lack of production, but mostly because at 5-foot-11, he was considered too short by NFL defensive lineman standards.
Ford said he has heard he was too short for almost as long as he has been playing football.
"A lot of people thought I wouldn't do much in college, and I was productive there," he said. "A lot of people said, I would get cut and this and that. I just use that (chip on my shoulder) to my advantage as much as possible."
Ford signed with the Seahawks in large part because they were the only team that brought him in for a pre-draft visit, then he showed enough athleticism and productivity to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. After a quiet start to the season that saw him earn limited playing time—he has been inactive for five of 14 games—Ford has started to make people take notice of late, and not just because of that prodigious belly he showed off on Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Ford has shown, "just the ability to make the plays, the ability to get in the backfield, the ability to really push back and make an impact. When he's out there, you know he's out there. When he's out there, you know he's going to run somebody down, jump in the gap and make some plays."
In Seattle's last three games, Ford has recorded 11 tackles, an impressive number for any defensive tackle, let alone an undrafted rookie, including those three tackles for loss in last week's loss to the 49ers. Ford's recent productivity should lead to more playing time down the stretch, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
"He has been really aggressive, he has shown really good instincts to get a feel for taking advantage and making plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage," Carroll said. "He's going to get some more playing time."
Carroll conceded earlier this month that Ford "certainly doesn't" have a traditional build for an NFL defensive tackle, but he has more than made up for it with quickness, power and effort, as well as long arms that almost look out of place on his otherwise compact frame.
"He has really long arms and he understands how to use his length to keep him clear of blockers and keep his feet clear so he can pursue," Carroll said earlier this month. "He's really quick. He's a really natural athlete. He can do a lot of stuff and you'd be surprised if you saw him throwing the ball around and playing catch and all that, he's a really good athlete… He has done well throughout but he really made a big impression on us this week when he had this much playing time and this much focus. You could really see him as a factor, so we're excited for him."
Ford earning a significant role in the Seahawks' rotation is something he knew he was capable of accomplishing, but he is also very aware of and motivated by all the people who didn't think he'd get this far.
All it takes is a quick glance at Ford's Twitter page to understand the chip on Ford's shoulder—his header photo is a screengrab of a tweet from @RosterWatch saying, "From what we're hearing, Poona Ford is very unlikely to make the Seahawks roster."
Ford hoped to get drafted, but knew there was a good chance he wouldn't, and his message to people before the draft was, "If I don't get drafted, I'm not going to be surprised. I just need to stay on the right path and don't let it get the best of me and have me go on a bad path. Because I knew I was going to get an opportunity, and that's all I needed at the end of the day."
Oh, and about that belly rub, there's a story behind that, Ford says. His former University of Texas teammate Chris Nelson started doing that this season when he made big plays for the Longhorns, so Ford called his friend and told him he'd take that move to the NFL if he had cause to celebrate.
"I saw him do it, so I was like, 'next time I make a big play, I'm going to do that,'" Ford said.
It remains to be seen if that celebration will stick for Ford, but what looks more apparent than ever after last week's big game against the 49ers is that Ford has a chance to stick around in Seattle's D-line rotation.
"Everything about him is unique but to see his, not just his instincts but also the ability to accelerate and get out there, he's very comfortable running in space," Carroll said. "He was jumping over guys and doing all kinds of stuff to get to the football. (Defensive line coach) Clint Hurtt's been saying that he's got a lot of stuff for us, and we just finally got the really concentrated look at him and you can tell. We're hoping he'll help us down the stretch."
The Seattle Seahawks take on the Kansas City Chiefs, the 53rd meeting between the two teams, for Week 16 of the 2022 season. Take a look back at some of their previous matchups.