CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Seahawks locker room had largely cleared out after Seattle’s season-opening 12-7 win over Carolina here Sunday.
As is custom, though, two who still remained were cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas.
And as Thomas heard Sherman talk to a reporter about the game’s key play – a fumble by Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams with just over 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter that the Seahawks recovered at the Seattle 8 – he playfully interrupted.
“Don’t go taking my credit, now,” Thomas said. “I’m listening over here.”
“OK,” Sherman eventually decided. “Can we have half-and-half?”
Officially, it was Thomas who got credit for causing the fumble on a play when both Seattle defenders hit Williams as the Panthers appeared to be on the verge of a go-ahead score.
Ultimately, though, all they really cared about was that the play happened, the kind of play the Seahawks say is indicative of what their team is all about.
“Great defenses find a way,” Sherman said. “And that’s what we try to do.”
The fumble forced by Thomas and officially recovered by Tony McDaniel was one of two big plays turned in by the Seahawks in the fourth quarter that allowed them to begin their season of great expectations with something of a great escape.
For most of the afternoon, it was a real slog as the Seahawks struggled to get a running game going or protect quarterback Russell Wilson. And they were just vulnerable enough on defense to give up one long touchdown drive in the second quarter.
That combination had Seattle staring at a 7-6 deficit as it began its first drive of the fourth quarter.
A Golden Tate 11-yard reception on third down, though, followed by a 15-yard run by Robert Turbin got the Seahawks to the Carolina 43-yard line.
Once there, the Seahawks noticed that the Panthers were getting a little more aggressive in their coverage, and on first down Wilson threw deep to Stephen Williams, who was open down the sideline. The pass was just a little long and went through the hands of a diving Williams for what momentarily looked like a great lost opportunity.
No matter. On second down, the Seahawks tried a similar play, this time with Jermaine Kearse in place of Williams.
Kearse said he noticed Carolina cornerback Josh Norman creeping up to the line of scrimmage to play tight coverage. So Kearse, given an option of routes on the play depending on what he saw out of the defender, ran a go route down the sideline.
This time, Wilson’s pass was on target. Kearse grabbed it between Norman and closing safety Charles Godfrey for a touchdown to put Seattle ahead 12-7 with 10:13 left (a pass on the two-point conversion fell incomplete).
“It was a great catch,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It was a great throw. And it was cool to see the guys come through when we went right back after them.”
It was the first regular-season touchdown for Kearse, the second-year player from Washington who made Seattle’s roster last year as an undrafted free agent.
“I looked at (Wilson) and saw him look my way,” Kearse said, “And I saw him throw the ball and I knew there was a very good chance I could make that play – especially in the position I was in. I just had to try to go up there and get the ball.”
Said Wilson: “I just went through my progressions. He was my second read, to be honest with you. He just did a great job of attacking the football.”
Then came nervous time for the Seahawks as two 15-yard penalties helped Carolina move to the Seattle 24, where on second-and-2 DeAngelo Williams took a handoff and burst free down the sideline before being hit by Sherman. Thomas, who had initially been beaten by Williams and was trailing the play, followed from behind and punched the ball out.
Each later gave credit to the endless practice sessions focused on forcing turnovers.
“He was doing a great job running hard, but he ran with it a little more loose and I tried to put my helmet and shoulder pads on it,” Sherman said, “and right after he got by me, Earl put a fist on it. Day in, day out, that’s all we practice, going after the ball. Maybe four, five periods a day. So when they are digging that into your head, you’ve got to go for it.”
Said Thomas: “You could see the ball and when (running backs) are swinging it and you see a little brown, you just want to punch, and I punched, and the ball came out and I just went crazy.”
While Sherman and Thomas were happy to share the credit, the Panthers’ Williams took all the blame.
“It ultimately came down to that fumble, let’s just get that out of the way,” he said. “It was my fault.”
The Seattle offense then ran out the clock, capping what Carroll called “a great finish.”
“It was hard today,” Carroll said. “It was really hard. The thing I love about it is our guys hung tough and we made the plays when we needed to make them.”