2015 Seahawks Re-Watch, Week 17: Lockett Goes Light Speed
In the NFL, week 17 was a presentment of choices. For some teams, having already been eliminated, it was essentially an exhibition match. For teams who were part of the lower rung of the league, “tanking” for a higher draft pick was an option. But for the Seattle Seahawks and their opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, it was a question of whether to forego a division win and a chance for momentum going into the playoffs in favor of resting players for the postseason. Win or lose, the Hawks were the sixth seed in the playoffs, destined to face either the Minnesota Vikings or the Green Bay Packers. However, the Cardinals, should they win and if the Carolina Panthers lost, would gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Seahawks had made clear their desire to bounce back from an uncharacteristic performance against the St Louis Rams. Meanwhile, a tepid Bruce Arians, Arizona’s head coach, had vowed to keep his starters in if both this game and the Panthers game were competitive.
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Rookie Tyler Lockett was gaining acclaim as a pass catcher, but he had never stopped being electric at the original reason he was drafted. As a punt returner, Lockett had set up the offense with quite a few short fields, an underrated element of the Seahawk’s midseason turn around. Against the Cardinals, Lockett not only contributed on special teams, he cemented his status as one of the best active kick returners in the game.
In the second quarter, Cardinal’s punter Drew Butler punted a 56-yard beauty that had Lockett backpedaling from the start. Thanks to a block by Richard Sherman, Lockett was able to get his first step. Like a knife through butter, Lockett split the Cardinal punt unit in half and soon veered to the sideline. Too slow to hope of catching Lockett, Butler chased, but pancaked as Lockett squeezed past him; however, safety Tony Jefferson was able to get hands on Lockett, pushing Lockett out of bounds on the Cardinal’s 16. On the next play, Russell Wilson hit tight end Chase Coffman for a touchdown. Minutes later, after the defense held the Cardinals to a three and out, Butler—hoping to avoid another pancaking incident—put up a modest punt, so not to outkick the coverage. The kick stayed near the left hash mark, giving Lockett field to work with. Lockett displayed some fancy footwork, conning Jefferson into biting on a tackle before brushing by him, then crossing-over Brittan Golden. In a similar situation as before, Lockett split the punt unit in half. He faked out Butler, who again leapt in futility to stop Lockett; however, Deone Bucannon chased Lockett down. Starting from Arizona’s 27, Wilson needed three plays to put up another touchdown, this time to Jemaine Kearse. After another three and out, and perhaps a sign that Arian’s pride was getting the best of him, Butler was told to punt to Lockett again. This one went 53 yards and brought Lockett to the sideline. No matter, Lockett ran laterally, crossing both hash marks. He put a move on Sean Weatherspoon and then headed up the gut once again. Steven Hauschka missed the field goal opportunity.
It was the three phases of the game at its best. The defense got stops. Special teams produced significant returns. The offense scored touchdowns. All in all, three consecutive drives for Arizona ended in punts, whereby Lockett accounted for 139 return yards. What started as a 17-6 lead before Lockett’s first return was a 30-6 lead when he finished.
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For his efforts as a return specialist, Lockett earned Pro Bowl honors. Seven other Seahawks made the squad. Russell Wilson was the only offensive player to do so, having been the best quarterback in football during November and December. Incidentally, his touchdown pass to Coffman broke the single-season team record. The previous mark of 32 was held by Dave Krieg, who accomplished the feat in 1984. The remaining spots belonged to familiar names. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, an underrated speed guy and sure fire tackler, made it and so did Michael Bennett, the elite defensive lineman. Cornerback Richard Sherman earned a nod, mostly likely for his success in adapting to an expanded role in the secondary. Safety Earl Thomas, by far the best player for the Seahawks in 2015, earned his nod for being a 5’10” human being who played as if he were fifty-yard wide wall towering across the field. Lastly, safety Kam Chancellor was selected, but the selection was a tad controversial. Chancellor had missed two games due to a holdout and had an iffy year in pass coverage. As it was, after his Pro Bowl selection, he injured his tailbone and missed the rest of the regular season, playing in only 11 games, a career low.
Several Hawks received nods as alternates, including defensive end Chris Avril, who had a superb season, and kicker Steven Hauschka, whose foot was as golden as ever. Also, running back Marshawn Lynch and left tackle Russell Okung were elected. With so many Seahawks on the roster, it was hard to imagine any players being snubbed, but two Seahawks had strong cases. Doug Baldwin earned the honor as an alternate but would have likely been a straight-up Pro Browler had voting occurred closer to the conclusion of the regular season. Meanwhile, KJ Wright was a borderline candidate, finishing the year with 116 combined tackles and four forced fumbles. A player on the rise, Wright’s efforts in 2015 were off the charts, even if he did not produce the sexiest stat line.
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With the game out of hand, Arians pulled starting quarterback Carson Palmer for backup Drew Stanton. Soon after, many other starters were pulled. Seattle followed suit. At the final whistle, the Seahawks had ended the Cardinal’s bid for home field before they began. All in all, the team finished the regular season with a 10-6 record. It was a remarkable turnaround and a testament to the mental toughness of the team. They were winners, without a doubt, and they had won their way to another go at the postseason. This iconic Seahawks squad, full of superstars and future Hall of Famers, had a chance at a second Lombardi trophy, an achievement that would cement their legacy as one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
The Wildcard playoff will post next Tuesday, June 28th. Thanks for reading!
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Week 1, The Rams…Again | Week 2, The Pack Attack | Week 3, The Good News Bears? | Week 4, Kam’s Big Comeback | Week 5, The Cincinnati Heartbreaker | Week 6, Lockette’s Great Grab | Week 7, Karper-can’t | Week 8, Sherman Shines | Week 10, The Tales of Two Halves | Week 11, My Name is Thomas Rawls. | Week 12, The Youth Movement | Week 13, A Complete Win | Week 14, Baldwin Blows Up | Week 15, Wilson Makes History | Week 16, One Of Those Days