SEATTLE -- Marshawn Lynch knew he'd play a prominent role in the Seahawks' 23-15 victory over the Saints long before he got to the stadium Saturday. When he awoke in the morning, the rain was heavy enough to flood streets and the wind was strong enough to knock out power in parts of the city.
The last thing a smart football team does in such conditions is lean on its passing game, so Lynch, a seventh-year veteran from Cal, knew he was going to get a steady diet of carries. So did the Saints, though they could do nothing to stop him.
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Lynch didn't have the OMG run of three years ago in the playoffs, when he treated New Orleans' defenders as if they were slalom poles, weaving through them on a ground-shaking, 67-yard touchdown that highlighted a 19-carry, 131-yard victory. But he was just as brilliant in his methodical effort, grinding out 140 yards and two scores on 28 carries.
"He's literally a guy that you can just put the team on his back and he'll go," wideout Golden Tate said. "He's a spectacular competitor and he's blessed with endless amounts of talent. He's physical and has that dawg in him, that want in him. The weather was a factor today, but 'In Marshawn We Trust.' He did a heck of a job carrying the ball and protecting the ball, because they were coming after it."
This was payback in a way for Lynch, who was held to 45 yards on 16 carries in a 34-7 Seattle victory on Dec. 2. The Saints were determined not to allow Lynch to find a rhythm, and they played him as if he wore a homing device. He appeared to start slowly Saturday, gaining just 14 yards on five carries in the first quarter, but beneath the numbers were signs of what was to come because three of the rushes went for five yards or longer (the two others were for no gain and minus-4).
By the second quarter he was off and running, with 10 carries for 55 yards, one of which went for a 15-yard score and another that picked up 18 yards. He gained 25 in the third quarter and 46 in the fourth, including the 31-yard score that made it 23-8 with 2:40 to play.
Fortunately for the Seahawks, Lynch is more productive with his carries than his words. Fined $50,000 earlier in the week for failing to speak with the media during the season, he answered nine postgame questions, the longest response being 15 words when asked if he took it upon himself to get the offense going to start the second half: "No, I just stayed with what we were calling and just believed in my team."
Teammates contend he also limits his words to them, which is why some were stunned to flip on the TV during the year and see him pitching a local plumbing company. His response when they gave him grief about it? "He shot up the middle finger and kept moving," said left tackle Russell Okung.
For those unfamiliar with sign language, Lynch spelled out the meaning on the back of a hoodie he wore Saturday morning while waiting in line at a doughnut shop. It read:
"Marshawn Lynch is one of those guys that you love -- unconditionally love no matter what he does, no matter what he says, because of his work ethic," said wideout Doug Baldwin. "We always talk about quarterbacks in this league, or receivers scoring touchdowns, and their work ethic. But no one really talks about running backs and their work ethic. Marshawn's is second to none. The passion that he puts into the game of football, and the passion that he puts in during the week to get his body ready for the game, and then how he plays the game -- he puts everything on the line. Sometimes I worry he's going to get hurt because he puts his body out there. It's unbelievable to watch."
Lynch's performance couldn't have come at a better time. The Seahawks use the run to set up their passing game, and entering Saturday, Lynch had gone six straight games without reaching 100 yards. He had not gone more than three consecutive games in a season without reaching that mark since 2011, so questions of "What's wrong?" were simmering beneath the surface.
Lynch answered resoundingly Saturday. He consistently showed great vision, patiently waiting before planting his outside foot and turning upfield. He did an excellent job with cutback runs, getting clean through openings or running through off-balance defenders who had over-pursued.
Next week Lynch will play in his first NFC Championship Game, against the winner of Sunday's 49ers-Panthers game. He gained 43 yards on 17 carries in a season-opening win at Carolina, and rushed for 98 and 72 yards in games against San Francisco this season. The long-range weather forecast is for morning clouds and afternoon sun, not that it matters. If there's one certainty, it's that Lynch will get plenty of opportunities to make the game his own.