Seattle's defense should be at full strength for playoffs
RENTON — The Seahawks’ longest winning streak under Pete Carroll continued Thursday, the most recent victory occurring without anyone stepping onto a field.
Cornerback Richard Sherman won his appeal of a four-game suspension from the NFL, eliminating the biggest uncertainty looming over Seattle’s playoff run.
Sure, the Seahawks have won four games in a row, including the last three by a combined score of 150-30, but they were in danger of losing one of their very best players just when the games were going to matter most.
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At least they were until Thursday morning, when Sherman’s suspension for testing positive for a banned substance was overturned by Bob Wallace, a former NFL executive who upheld Sherman’s appeal because of irregularities in the testing procedure. Wallace’s decision spanned four pages, describing a case that began more than three months ago and concluded with four simple words: “The discipline is reversed.”
Sherman said any relief he felt was trumped by his anticipation for what lies ahead.
“I’m just excited,” Sherman said, “Just knowing, for sure, that I’ll be able to go out there and play with my teammates. I think we have a great chance of making a pretty good run, the way everybody is rolling right now.”
No doubt about that. Seattle has scored more points the past three games than any NFL team in the past 60 years. Sherman has scored two touchdowns in those three games, while Seattle’s opponents have combined for three.
But the status of Seattle’s cornerbacks has been a question hanging over the team’s head for more than a month now.
Sherman and fellow starter Brandon Browner both tested positive for a banned substance the second week of the season, the league determined, and were notified of a violation the second week of November.
While Browner began serving his four-game suspension by missing Seattle’s Dec. 9 game against Arizona, Sherman appealed his case, disputing the circumstances of his test.
His appeal hearing took place last Friday, Sherman appearing along with his attorney, Maurice Suh of Los Angeles.
Sherman’s argument was based on the fact a second cup was used in the collection of his urine after the initial cup began leaking. The tester confirmed both the leaking cup and the use of an additional cup.
Sherman’s argument was the test was tainted by the violations in procedure, the league arguing that those deviations from the standard procedure were immaterial to the result.
Wallace — the hearing officer — upheld Sherman’s appeal, pointing out specifically that the tester did not note the use of a second cup in the collection process until asked by a supervisor in October.
“Insuring that the sample is collected properly is the cornerstone of the program,” Wallace noted in his decision, “and when an event occurs that does not happen routinely or that the collector has never experienced while collecting the sample it is incumbent upon that collector to note what happened.”
Lost in the discussions of leakage, second cups and protocol was a bigger issue for Sherman. He said mistakes were made in the whole procedure, with the bottom line being he never took banned substances.
Sherman said he will still deal with the question of how news of his positive test became public, but said the scrutiny the past month might have actually helped improve his play.
“I like pressure,” he said. “I play better with more pressure. I enjoyed that. It adds that extra element to it, and I play better when it comes down to it, that’s why I enjoy the playoffs and the must-win games.”
The only thing that mattered to Sherman and his teammates Thursday is that the cornerback who has picked off seven passes isn’t going anywhere.
“It made my day better,” safety Earl Thomas said. “I came in a little shaken up just because you don’t know. That’s my brother back there, and it definitely feels good for him to take this journey and be on this team with us.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org