Unheralded Heroes Emerge as Seahawks Withstand Rally by Patriots
Any time the Seahawks and Patriots get together, expect the unexpected. And make sure you grab a few aspirin for good measure.
Back in 2012, an unproven rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson experienced his coming out party by leading Seattle to a second half comeback culminated with a long touchdown pass to Sidney Rice. Two years later in Super Bowl XLIX, Chris Matthews caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown after having zero receptions in his NFL career to that point, while undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler picked off Wilson at the goal line in the closing minute to secure a Lombardi Trophy.
Then in 2016 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, running back C.J. Prosise produced 153 yards from scrimmage, helping the Seahawks outlast the Patriots in a game that featured eight lead changes and also was decided at the goal line in the final minute.
Considering that history of dramatic finishes between these two franchises, it shouldn't come as a surprise the game went down to the final yard. And it should be even less shocking unsung heroes came to the rescue for the Seahawks in pivotal moments to help escape with a 35-30 win at CenturyLink Field.
Most notably, defensive end L.J. Collier came through with the first of what he hopes will be many signature plays in Seattle, knifing into the backfield to upend quarterback Cam Newton on the final play of the game. It was a major confidence booster for the former first-round pick, who has rebounded nicely during the first two games after battling injuries in a disappointing rookie season.
"It boosts me forward, it gave me the jump I needed," a relieved Collier said following the game. "I'm really, just to move forward, I think it's only up from here really. It just shows a little bit of my offseason work and how hard I worked in the offseason from getting up early and killing myself every day."
According to Collier, the Patriots had been running the same play with Newton in short yardage all evening long, with the 250-pound dual threat quarterback scoring twice on it earlier in the game. Following the advice of linebacker Bobby Wagner, he and the rest of the line slanted towards the play, which allowed him to penetrate and make a game-winning tackle.
But Collier's decisive run stop may not have been possible without reserve safety Lano Hill, who was only playing because of an injury to Marquise Blair and an ejection for Quandre Diggs, blowing up New England's fullback in the backfield and driving him into Newton.
"Lano cut it all back to me, man," Collier explained. "You gotta give all the credit to Lano and that was a hell of a play just to turn it back to the defense and I feel like if I wouldn't have made it, somebody else would have came and made the play too. Big-time credit to Lano."
Well before Collier and Hill teamed up to bring down Newton a couple yards short of pay dirt, other unheralded players made crucial plays for the Seahawks in the second half, including rookie receiver Freddie Swain and cornerback Ugo Amadi.
A sixth-round pick out of Florida, Swain has made several clutch plays for Seattle in his first two NFL games. Last week against Atlanta, he recovered a fumble on special teams and he nearly picked up a first down on his first NFL catch, positioning the team for a Jason Myers field goal after a couple penalties knocked them out of scoring range.
Continuing to show the lights aren't too bright for him, with the Seahawks closing in on the red zone and a little over two minutes left in the third quarter, Swain came wide open on a crossing route from the slot against blown coverage. Wilson immediately hit him in stride and the rookie raced down the left sideline for his first career touchdown, extending Seattle's lead to 28-17.
While many fans may not have heard of Swain before Sunday night, Wilson isn't surprised he has made an immediate impact considering how "dialed in" he was during Seattle's offseason Zoom meetings after being drafted. He also emphasized the positive influence of veteran leaders in the receiver room playing a role in his quick start.
"I think who he is, how he played in college, he's transferred it to the game," Wilson commented. "Football is just football. He knows it, he understands it, he processes it. He does a great job, he takes it very serious on offense and special teams."
In the secondary, Ugo Amadi also filled in admirably after safety/nickel cornerback Marquise Blair exited with a serious knee injury early in the second quarter. He finished with eight tackles, second behind only Jamal Adams, produced a tackle for loss, and also made a pivotal play in coverage on the final drive to prevent receiver Julian Edelman from catching a game-winning touchdown.
"Next man up mentality," Adams said when asked about Amadi's showing. "Ugo was a rookie last year, came into a big stage, a big moment [on] Sunday Night Football versus the Pats. Hats off to him. He held his own, he did his job, he made plays. I mean, you can't ask for too much from certain guys and he just came out and did his job."
Seattle's second win to open the 2020 season came at a cost, as the team likely lost Blair for the season and defensive end Bruce Irvin also left with what coach Pete Carroll indicated was a sprained knee. Depending on how long those two players are sidelined, the onus will fall on Amadi, Hill, and Collier to step up to the plate with significant snaps in their absence. With receiver Phillip Dorsett still sidelined by a foot issue as well, Swain will keep getting chances to impress.
After all four players made critical contributions against a top-tier opponent in a nationally-televised game to help aid a victory, the Seahawks should have plenty of confidence each of them can continue to perform at a high level when called upon moving forward.