Next time – if there could really be a next time similar to Sunday – Seahawks coach Pete Carroll hopes Richard Sherman reacts just a little bit differently.
“Yeah, I would,” Carroll said, in reference to Sherman’s extended third-quarter sideline outburst following a blown coverage that led to a touchdown by Atlanta’s Julio Jones on Sunday.
But a day later, Carroll preferred to focus on what happened next – the Seahawks steadying themselves to rally for a 26-24 win over the Falcons.
“He went over the top,” Carroll said of Sherman’s rant, which included throwing his helmet, pointing angrily at defensive coordinator Kris Richard, and continually breaking away from teammates who tried to calm him down. “But what was fantastic was the way our guys took care of him and they were best suited to make sure, to make sense and to get him right. And we got back.”
And Carroll thought the experience of the team momentarily losing its grip but then finding its way to get what could be a pivotal win in the season might ultimately prove to be something of a turning point.
“A thrilling moment in the game to try to figure that out and the fact that it turned and the guys played so well and finished the game the way we like to finish was a beautiful thing,” Carroll said. “And I think we are stronger for that and it will help us somewhere down the road, I don’t know where – I don’t know when we are going to be in a situation like that again – but at least we will have been there before so we will draw from that.”
The incident began when Jones caught a 36-yard touchdown pass with 11:01 left in the third quarter to cut Seattle’s lead to 17-10.
On the play, Sherman initially lined up on Jones. But when tight end Austin Hooper came in motion and lined up on the outside of Jones, Sherman moved over to take Hooper. That left strong safety Kelcie McCray in position to take Jones.
Only, the signals got crossed somewhere and Sherman appeared to play man coverage on Hooper while McCray was in a zone. McCray let Jones run by him, apparently anticipating help in the back end that didn’t arrive.
Afterward, Sherman referred to a mix-up in the on-field audible – the changing of the coverage that was necessitated when Hooper went in motion – and said “we tried to make a new adjustment and just miscommunication.”.
“We misplayed the play,” Carroll said Monday. “Game plan stuff entered into that. We had prepared for some things to happen that happened just like we thought and we didn’t play it the way we thought we would and it didn’t come out right.”
McCray, acquired in a trade before the start of the 2015 season, was starting at strong safety in place of injured starter Kam Chancellor, out with a groin injury suffered in practice Thursday.
“Kelc played really well,” Carroll said of McCray, who was making his first start this season and fourth overall with the Seahawks. “He did an nice job in the game. But still, the communication is not as good. Otherwise it wouldn’t matter if you played together for five years. It matters. There’s something to that. I thought it was evident that that happened.”
There had been much pregame speculation that Sherman would cover Jones – generally regarded as one of the best receivers in the NFL – exclusively throughout the game. Seattle’s gameplan instead called for Sherman to shadow Jones in many situations but not all.
Carroll, though, thought the spotlight on the Sherman-Jones matchup and Sherman’s desire to play well against Jones played a factor in his reaction to the play – in which Jones scored without Sherman being in position to defend him (Jones caught seven passes for 139 yards in the game but only three for 40 yards in single coverage against Sherman).
“There’s been a lot of focus on Richard, a lot of attention, a lot of build up and he’s human, too,” Carroll said. “He was keyed up and he wanted to do great. He wanted us to do great and he wanted to do his part in all of that. That’s just the response that happened.”
While Sherman stewed, teammates tried to calm him down. At one point, they all leapt together on the sidelines, with Sherman seeming reluctant to join in.
Carroll initially stayed out of the way, which he said he did in part to see if the players – many of whom have now been together for four, five, six years – could work it out on their own.
“I didn’t stay away from it to not know what was happening,” Carroll said. “I watched our guys and I could see how they were responding to the situation and how he was responding to Kam and he was responding to Michael Bennett and to Earl (Thomas), and I could see that they were communicating and they were making sense and it was going to take some time. The urgency was really apparent that we needed to get back and get right. I thought it was a marvelous job of our guys showing who they are and their resolve to make sure they do what is right for our team. It was impressive.’’
Carroll admitted that the defense was distracted the rest of the third quarter, in which Atlanta went on three long touchdown drives, ultimately gaining 252 yards to Seattle’s 29 to turn a 17-3 halftime deficit into a 24-17 lead.
But the Seahawks righted themselves enough to dominate the fourth quarter, holding Atlanta to 24 yards on 11 plays and getting an interception that turned the game around.
“What I told the guys today was there’s going to always be things that happen and we’re going to learn if we can from the experiences that we have and those that we draw from and get smarter and more aware, we’re going to get better,” Carroll said. “It wound up being an extraordinary positive for our team.”
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