FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Seahawks believe in running the ball. Believe in it fully, never questioning it, never doubting its powers, but for most of this season the ground game has lacked a true messenger.
Marshawn Lynch served faithfully for years, and then Thomas Rawls replaced him with the same ferocity last season. But Rawls has barely been able to play this season because of injuries, leaving the job to Christine Michael.
Michael has had his moments, sure, but the Seahawks ranked 30th in both yards per carry and yards per game heading into Sunday’s game against New England. It had been a slog.
And so this week coach Pete Carroll handed the message to a new messenger, rookie C.J. Prosise, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame making his first career start at running back. Prosise carried the ball 17 times and gained 66 yards (3.9 yards per carry). He also caught seven passes for 87 yards.
But just as important was Prosise’s style. How he kept lowering his shoulder, demonstrating his patience, the way he chiseled away, play after play.
“I thought he was (bleeping) amazing,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said.
“Isn’t he something?” Carroll gushed. “He’s really good.”
Maybe this is where the Seahawks restore their once-proud running game. Maybe this is where the offense finds the balance it’s been searching for. Maybe this is where everyone gets to know C.J. Prosise.
Prosise’s 66 rushing yards were the most since Michael ran for 106 against the 49ers in the third game of the season and tied for the second-most by a Seattle runner in a game this year. Michael added 22 yards on five carries.
The Seahawks still haven’t rushed for 100 yards since that game against the 49ers in week three, but their 96 rushing yards against the Patriots were the most in five games.
“We’ve been searching for this, and hopefully this builds confidence in ourselves, which it should because we’re capable of doing this every week,” center Justin Britt said.
Prosise missed time in the exhibition season because of a hamstring injury and then missed games during the season because of a wrist injury. The Seahawks always envisioned him as their third-down running back this season, a part-time role designed to take advantage of Prosise as a receiver.
But it looks like his role is expanding. He offered the Seahawks the kind of edge the running game hasn’t always had this season. In the first quarter, Prosise caught a pass for 18 yards along the sideline, but instead of stepping out of bounds, he lowered his shoulder into a defender.
The Seahawks’ sideline erupted. Defensive players waved towels and yelled across the field.
“It’s huge because it invigorates our offense,” Baldwin said.
“That’s just kind of getting back to our mentality of Seahawks football,” said offensive tackle Garry Gilliam. “Hitting people in the mouth just down after down after down. It was just us getting back to being ourselves.”
The running-back position needs production for the Seahawks, but it also needs style. An attitude. A running back not only needs to pick up yards and read a play correctly. He also needs to establish an identity, a tone.
“He was tough tonight,” Carroll said. “He hung in there. He took some hits, he delivered some hits. I thought that was a really impressive showing by him.”
Prosise wasn’t perfect in his first start, and neither was the Seahawks’ rushing attack; Prosise and the offensive line couldn’t punch it in on two straight rushing plays from the one-yard line. But at the minimum Prosise offered reason for optimism, some hope that the running game can find itself again.
“Each week he’s gotten better,” Gilliam said. “In practice you can see it. He’s starting to learn our system, how to read things, how to set up things, and I think you can see it in the way he’s performing. I only expect him to get better.”