Marshawn Lynch had been in town less than a week when he ran out of gas on the Eastside.
This was back in October, and as far as omens go, it wasn’t exactly promising.
Lynch called teammate Justin Forsett, who arrived to push the car while Lynch steered. The image symbolized the Seahawks’ rushing offense this season: It required a whole lot of legwork to just get rolling.
That’s what made this past Sunday so surprising. Not just that Seattle reached the playoffs, but how the Seahawks got there. Seattle was historically poor at running the ball this season yet the Seahawks suddenly found traction in the second half against the Rams, and Lynch — the guy who ran out of gas that first week in Seattle — put the pedal down and gained 76 yards in the final two quarters.
“We made some adjustments that I saw,” Lynch said. “We could capitalize on it. We just took it and ran with it.”
It was an unmistakable sign of progress for the most unlikely playoff team. Seattle’s inability to run the ball has been the one consistent theme this season. Even when the Seahawks were winning, they weren’t running well. The acquisition of Lynch four games into the season was supposed to help that, bringing Seattle a bruising, between-the-tackles runner. A hard-edge runner who would pair well with Forsett, his college teammate at California.
But Seattle’s running game never clicked. The Seahawks didn’t have a player rush for 100 yards in any game for the first time since the strike-shortened season of 1982.
Lynch led Seattle with 573 yards rushing, marking the fifth consecutive season the Seahawks didn’t have anyone gain 1,000 yards. Detroit is the only other team in the league that has gone that long without a millennium man.
But on Sunday night, Lynch helped Seattle find its stride at precisely the moment the Seahawks needed to run the ball more than anything. Held to 22 yards rushing in the first half, Seattle racked up 119 in the second as Lynch didn’t put the game on his back so much as he tucked it under his arm and refused to let go.
“He really was firing at the line of scrimmage,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He did a nice job with it. I think it all fit together right more than anything.”
The turning point was Lynch’s third-quarter fumble, which set up a St. Louis field goal. It was the third turnover Lynch has committed in 12 games with the Seahawks, but it wasn’t his mistake that defined Sunday’s game but how Lynch responded to it.
“After that fumble, you knew he was going to come back determined,” linebacker Lofa Tatupu said.
And afterward Lynch celebrated Seattle’s postseason with a youthful giddiness that captured the moment for a team that didn’t care how it got to the playoffs, just that it got there. He declared — repeatedly — that this was his first postseason appearance.
“We’re going to the playoffs,” he said in front of his locker. “Did I mention that to you already?”
Just a couple of times.
This season has been a fresh start for Lynch, from the trade out of Buffalo in the fifth week through the slow grind of Seattle’s stalled rushing attack to the fact the former Pro Bowler will appear in the playoffs for the first time.
“I just see it as an opportunity,” Lynch said. “An opportunity, going to the playoffs, that I didn’t have before. Just thankful for it.”
Not nearly as grateful as Seattle was for those 76 yards he gained in the second half Sunday.