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Thomas Rawls' Resurgence Gives Seahawks Familiar Feel of Playoff Juggernaut

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystJanuary 8, 2017

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 07:  Thomas Rawls #34 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates scoring a 4-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wild Card game at CenturyLink Field on January 7, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

It all seemed routine Saturday night. It seemed like suddenly the Seattle Seahawks' well-worn January football machine whirred to life.

Nothing that happened as a team in the weeks before their 26-6 Wild Card Weekend trouncing of the Detroit Lions mattered.

What happened?

The Seahawks had alternated wins and losses each week to end the season, starting back in Week 11. There was little consistency on either side of the ball, especially with a scattered offense that scored three points one game and then 40 points the next.

Nothing that happened with running back Thomas Rawls before Saturday lingered, either. The oft-injured but highly physical runner had gained a mere 56 yards on the ground over Seattle's final three regular-season games, averaging 1.5 yards per carry.

Then Rawls did so much more than just break loose and shed his mediocre status against the Lions. He reintroduced the NFC side of the playoff bracket to a familiar and feared weapon: a Seahawks rushing offense eager to smack, stomp and score.

Rawls was dynamic versus Detroit.
Rawls was dynamic versus Detroit.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Forget about Rawls' rushing total for a second, and we'll get to that franchise record-setting number. What he did in just the first half, as Brad Galli of WXYZ-TV Detroit noted, was already some serious trucking:

Brad Galli @BradGalli

Thomas Rawls' best regular season total this season: 106 yards. He has 107 yards in the first half vs. the Lions.

Those first-half yards came on just 15 carries. Rawls also rumbled around to record 68 yards after contact in the first half alone, according to Louie Benjamin of Pro Football Focus.

By halftime, the main scoreboard showed a tight game with the Seahawks leading 10-3. But another scoreboard foreshadowed what was to come, as Seattle led in rushing yardage 111-28.

It became clear the January version of the Seahawks had arrived on schedule. They went to Super Bowls in the 2013 and 2014 seasons by playing the sort of football that leaves physical and pride-related wounds. Their brand of playoff football is rooted in raw power and established through a run-oriented offense.

A rushing offense that paints defenders different shades of black and blue had been absent at times due to injuries. Rawls missed time and was limited by multiple injuries, and fellow running back C.J. Prosise remains sidelined with a shoulder issue.

Developing any sort of rhythm became difficult; the Seahawks averaged only 99.4 rushing yards per game, down dramatically from their 141.8 average in 2015.

Where had those Seahawks gone? Nowhere, apparently.

Seahawks rushing in regular season vs. Wild Card Game
Game(s)Rushing yardsYards/carry+20-yard runs
Regular season99.4 (avg)3.97
Wild Card Game vs. Lions1774.72
Source: NFL.com

Rawls spearheaded the pummeling Saturday with his quick, decisive cuts and running style that can be both seen and heard. Nothing in life can give him more joy than initiating the distinct thwack that shakes the ground when large bodies collide.

He set a Seahawks franchise playoff single-game record with his 161 rushing yards. He reached that mark while averaging 6.0 yards per carry, nearly three full yards more than his average throughout the regular season (3.2).

Rawls was central to everything the Seahawks did offensively. They didn't need quarterback Russell Wilson much or brilliance from their wide receivers, but Seattle received plenty from both anyway.

Doug Baldwin had a big game versus the Lions.
Doug Baldwin had a big game versus the Lions.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Wilson had thrown for only 105 passing yards through just over three quarters when he dropped back and looked toward the sideline and wide receiver Doug Baldwin. He hadn't cooled off, and his ability to float a football into an incredibly narrow space deep downfield didn't go anywhere.

Then Wilson launched a high-arcing rainbow that fell perfectly into Baldwin's outstretched mitts for a game-altering 42-yard gain.

It was a one-score game at the time, and the Lions had already made regular-season history with their eight comeback wins in the fourth quarter or overtime. So Wilson answered when the Seahawks needed some insurance and security. Rawls scored a four-yard touchdown four plays later.

Baldwin added a touchdown catch later in the fourth quarter when he joined the one-handed grab fun fellow receiver Paul Richardson started with his Odell Beckham Jr. impression. Richardson made several leaping grabs and is rapidly rising as an athletic marvel.

The Seahawks take on the high-powered Falcons offense next.
The Seahawks take on the high-powered Falcons offense next.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

All of those winning elements—rushing dominance, sprawling catches at crucial moments, Wilson's precision—are the usual ingredients thrown in the mixing pot for Seahawks playoff success. And of course, the stonewalling defense that allowed single-digit points for the fifth time in 2016-17 is standard stuff too.

Toss it all together, and the Seahawks are a terrifying playoff opponent.

The Atlanta Falcons will test their offensive firepower and the strength of that defensive wall in the divisional round. The Seahawks will also have to travel this time, and they were 3-4-1 on the road in 2016.

But it might not matter where the game is played if the version of the Seahawks we saw Saturday shows up again. The playoff version, that is, and the Super Bowl-contending version.

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