Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
With one minute and 51 seconds to play in last Monday night’s nationally televised game against the Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks were in trouble. Trailing Seattle 13-10, the Lions had just moved nearly the length of the field for their only sustained drive of the game, and now had the ball at the Hawks 12 yard line with 3rd down and a yard to go for a first down. At least a field goal and the likelihood of overtime loomed from this possession; if not a game winning Lions touchdown. To the “twelves” watching in Centurylink Stadium and on TV the situation was shocking. Until a few minutes earlier the Seahawks defense had been dominating this game. It was so bad for the Lions that in the entire second half they had managed but one first down, and that had come on a penalty. Indeed, Detroit’s only touchdown for the night was not allowed by the Hawks defense, but was the result of another mistake by the offense; an all too common occurrence so far this season. That happened midway through the 4th quarter when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who was under constant pressure during the game and sacked 6 times, fumbled while being sacked at the Seahawks 30 yard line. A Lions defensive lineman scooped up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. The Detroit defense then forced a 3 and out on Seattle’s ensuing possession and gave their offense the ball back at their own 9 yard line with 6 minutes and 23 seconds left in the game. Now, nine plays and 4 minutes and 32 seconds later, here we were—the suddenly unstoppable Detroit offense had the Lions on the verge of a huge upset.
As the players from both teams lined up for the next play, realistically the best most us “twelves” could hope for was that Detroit would try to run the ball for the one yard 1st down, and that the Hawks defense would stonewall them; or, if a pass, the Hawks defense would pressure Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford into an incompletion. Unfortunately, both scenarios would lead to the game tying Detroit field goal, which to me seemed almost inevitable at that point. Though perhaps it should have, considering the great players comprising the Hawks defense, what ended up actually happening on the game’s next play NEVER occurred to me as possible.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I know such things happen. With the Seahawks we only need to go back to the game against the Rams at The Clink at the end of last season for an example; when Earl Thomas karate chopped the ball free from the St. Louis running back as he was just about to cross the goal line to give Seattle the ball on a touchback. But to expect plays like that? To rely on them, or even think them likely?
No! Great teams are great because they do not get into situations like that in the first place, not because of some miraculous play they pull off that avoids disaster. That is how my football mind works. The likelihood of catching lightning in a bottle is remote at best, but to expect it to happen twice within such a short time? That Earl Thomas so recently did what he did, to my way of thinking, made what was about to happen against the Lions even more impossible. So I never even considered it.
When I saw the Lions formation for the coming play I thought it likely they would run the ball. Detroit quarterback Stafford was in the shotgun with running backs to either side. To his left, split a couple yards out, was his all world receiver Calvin Johnson. Covering Johnson, as he had beautifully done all night, was Seattle cornerback Cary Williams. Split to Stafford’s right in the slot was Golden Tate with wide receiver Lance Moore split a bit further out to Tate’s right. Any idea of the play being a run went out the window with the snap of the ball. Stafford never even attempted to fake a run, but simply took the snap and immediately looked to pass. His first read was to the left flat (Seahawks right), where the running back to that side, Theo Riddick, had leaked out; but Riddick was completely taken away by Hawks strong safety Kam Chancellor, who came charging up to rob Stafford of that option. The quarterback’s next read in his progression was to Johnson, who was just breaking back to the outside after a quick slant inside. The move had given Johnson a step on Williams, and Stafford delivered a crisp pass to his receiver, who caught the ball at about the 8 yard line and broke towards the goal line.
The beauty of a player like Kam Chancellor is not just in his physicality, but in his intelligence and his recognition. In blanketing Riddick like he did, he knew he had taken away Stafford’s first option; and so instantly knew that the quarterback would be going to Johnson next. As Johnson caught the ball and turned toward the goal line Chancellor was several yards further out to Johnson’s left in the flat on Riddick. Seeing what was happening, the Hawks strong safety immediately dropped Riddick and headed back in pursuit of Johnson, catching up to him about the 2 yard line, just as Johnson was being hit down low by Earl Thomas. Apparently unaware of the approaching Chancellor, Johnson, who had the ball in his left hand, made the mistake of extending the ball away from his body a bit as he was going down and preparing to cross the goal line; whereupon Chancellor made a perfectly timed “punch” on the ball, causing it to pop free and forward, through and, with a slight assist in the form of a tap by Seattle linebacker KJ Wright, out the back of the end zone.
A moment of confusion ensued. ESPN TV broadcaster Mike Tirico was screaming into his microphone—had Johnson crossed the plane of the goal line? If he did the fact of the fumble was irrelevant—the play would be a Lions touchdown. With the ball leaving the end zone unrecovered, had Johnson not crossed the goal line before the fumble it would be Seattle’s ball because of the touchback; and the Lions would be denied in heartbreaking fashion. A tense couple of seconds passed before the officials ruled the play a touchback, and gave Seattle the ball on their own 20 yard line. Video replays clearly showed that Chancellor’s “punch” play had resulted in Johnson fumbling before he crossed the plane of the goal line.
As I came to grips with what I had just witnessed, the more astounded I became. In the days since, the more I have watched replays of Chancellor’s magical play, the more incredible it is to me; and the more I see what a great player the Seattle strong safety is. I think back through all of the great plays he has made over the last couple of years; the “pick 6” in last year’s playoffs against the Panthers; the tone setting hit on the Broncos Demaryius Thomas in the 2014 Super Bowl; the 4th quarter interception against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in the 2014 NFC Championship game; and his touchdown saving 60 yard sprint to catch Kaepernick from behind earlier in that game. Looking at those in light of this most recent play, my jaw drops in contemplation. One player did all that. Unbelievable!
To me, of all of these magnificent plays that Chancellor has made in such crucial situations, the play he made to punch that ball free from Calvin Johnson in the closing moments of last Monday’s game, before he crossed the goal line; especially if the Seahawks do end up making another incredible playoff run, may well end up being the best and most important play of them all.
Seattle can help make that so with how they play the remaining 12 games of this season.
I hope they do!
Copyright © 2015
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved