Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and rest of the Seahawks defenders, they all knew New England’s final play was coming.
They’d just practiced it on the final play the day before. Just like the Patriots had practiced two seasons ago the fateful slant the day before Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson, also from the 1-yard line, in the previous epic these teams played, Super Bowl 49.
“Ironic,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said Sunday night, “the way it ended.”
When Chancellor, the four-time Pro Bowl strong safety making his first start in five weeks following a groin strain, saw Rob Gronkowski in motion out of New England’s backfield to the left side on fourth down from the 1-yard line with 13 seconds left, he and Seattle’s defense knew Tom Brady’s pass was going to the hulking tight end.
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Chancellor went to Gronkowski, stuck to him, and forced the incompletion well beyond both of them to seal the Seahawks exhilarating, 31-24 victory at Gillette Stadium.
“In practice (in the Boston area on Saturday), it ended the same way,” Chancellor said. “The same exact play. Same side of the field, too.”
Except, of course, it wasn’t Gronkowski but practice-squad tight end Marcus Lucas in the drill to prepare Chancellor.
“There’s irony in that. … I don’t know if it was intentional from the coaches. I think it was,” Chancellor said.
Indeed it was, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“Interestingly, the last play of the week of practice was a one-on-one shot with the tight end out there, and he happened to win in the same fashion,” Carroll said. “It was a big moment in practice because Kam was battling; he wanted to prove that he could do it.
“So, somehow that just works out. … Kam slammed the ball and went crazy in practice, you know, just because it was that moment.
“And, interestingly, it came down to that same thing.”
As for the bigger picture of what the Seahawks pulled off here, Carroll went to absolutes.
“Played the best team that you can put out there. That’s a great football team. They’ve got everything going for them,” Carroll said. “Best quarterback that ever played. Best coach that ever coached (Bill Belichick).
“You can’t get any better than that.”
As for the Seahawks (6-2-1) now, two games up in the NFC West and second in the NFC, 1 ½ games behind Dallas, with seven regular-season games left?
“It’s there for us now,” Carroll said. “We have a chance to go on from here and get better.”
WILSON AT THE IMPROV RETURNS
For the first time all season, Russell Wilson was back to his old, improvisational — and thus, lethal — ways.
Wilson completed 15 of 23 passes for 197 yards, two touchdown throws to Baldwin and a passer rating of 121.1 — in the first half. Seattle’s crisp final drive of the first half, seven plays and 75 yards in a lightning-like 59 seconds, was as vintage Wilson as the quarterback has been in 2016.
On third-and-nine, he threw from the pocket for 14 yards and a first down — between defenders to Jimmy Graham. Wilson scrambled on his previously sprained left knee and right ankle for six yards. He threw deep down the right sideline to Tyler Lockett from the pocket for 24 yards.
Then, with 15 seconds left in the half and out of timeouts, Wilson ran into formation without huddling, took the shotgun snap from Justin Britt, rolled right and then spun left. Wilson ran that way, then threw back across the field to Baldwin, who was standing alone at the 1. Baldwin caught Wilson’s throw in his chest and backed across the goal line to put Seattle ahead 19-14 at halftime.
It was the return of Wilson at the Improv, a rare performance before now in his injury-filled first half of the season. He was still playing Sunday with a titanium brace over the left knee, in which he now admits he had a “severe” injury, a sprained medial collateral ligament.
“The mentality was to do whatever I could … to continue to have that mollusk approach,” he said.
Wilson’s 348 yards passing was a career high for a regular-season game.
Yes, score another one for Wilson’s mollusk.
The Seahawks rolled up 248 yards of offense in the first half to 147 for New England. Seattle finished with a season-high 420 yards on offense.
Wilson was carving up a Patriots defense that deviated from its norm coming off the bye, showing more man-to-man coverage than usual mixed in with zones.
And get this: Seattle had 67 yards rushing by halftime, more than double its output on the ground the previous week in the win over Buffalo. The Seahawks finished with 96 yards on 26 carries, their most yards on the ground since the win in Week Three over San Francisco, which has about the worst rushing defense in the free world.
Rookie C.J. Prosise was the spark on the ground. He had 17 carries for 66 yards in his first start. He banged off tacklers and, in Baldwin’s words, “lit up our sideline.”
THOMAS LEVELS GRONKOWSKI
Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas did what few in the league — or world — can do.
He leveled Gronkowski off his feet. And briefly out of the game.
Thomas lowered his shoulder into Gronkowski after Chancellor deflected a pass incomplete deep in Seattle’s end zone in the second quarter. The Seahawks sideline exploded in celebration.
The huge, seemingly indestructible tight end was on the sideline for the next three Patriots plays. He returned for a goal-line pass route — when Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril had rare coverage responsibility and held him for a penalty.
LeGarrette Blount scored on the next play from the 1 to give New England a 14-12 lead late in the first half.
MICHAEL YIELDS TIME
Running back Christine Michael played but did not start — after being questionable to play with a hamstring injury the Seahawks listed for the first time on Friday.
He had started seven of the first eight games.
Total touches on Sunday night: Prosise 24, Michael six.
The changing of the running-back guard happened Sunday night — at least until Thomas Rawls returns from a cracked fibula, perhaps next weekend at home against Philadelphia. Rawls has been out since Sept. 18.
Punter Jon Ryan set a new Seahawks record by playing in his 136th consecutive game. That’s one more than former guard Chris Gray had into the early 2000s. … The Patriots set an NFL record with 258 throws to begin a season without an interception, until DeShawn Shead picked off Brady in the first half.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle