When it comes to Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, nothing is uncomplicated. Whether the issue is his contract, his health, his silence, his workload or lack thereof, Lynch — as Winston Churchill once said of Russia — is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
But thanks to the sensation that is Thomas Rawls, the riddle, the mystery and the enigma look like quandaries from the past. By rushing for 209 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and catching three passes for an additional 46 yards and a touchdown, Rawls turned a potentially difficult decision for the Seahawks into no decision at all.
The team has the option of paying Lynch $9 million in base salary to return in 2016, when he’ll be 30 and further removed from his Hall-of-Fame prime. Before Rawls put on a show of grit and grace that conjured memories of the late Walter Payton — even the No. 34 on the jersey is the same — Lynch’s status going forward was in flux.
And now? It’s difficult not to wonder if Lynch will start another game at CenturyLink Field.
“We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said after his team’s 29-13 victory. “Right now, Thomas did a good job, and Marshawn has been our runner for a long time around here.”
The one-time iron man with 9,112 career rushing yards might have had a premonition that the undrafted rookie from Central Michigan would replace him sooner rather than later when the Seahawks announced on Sunday morning that Lynch was inactive with an abdominal ailment.
“Marshawn came up to me and said, ‘Look, youngin, I’m going to pass you the torch for the day; you know what to do.”
Rawls took the torch and ran like the angry man he isn't. On the Hawks third play of the game, he caught a pass from Russell Wilson and chose to barrel into 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock on the sideline.
“I think he thought I was going to go out of bounds,” Rawls said of a 12-yard reception that best can be called momentous. “But little did he know I am not running out of bounds before I make contact. I have never run out of bounds. It’s just my makeup, my whole mentality. I think I would feel less of a person just running out of bounds instead of being physical, showing toughness, and having a different mentality at the running back position.
“I am from Flint, Michigan, where you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be a whole different breed. You’ve got to be different. You got to be uncommon.”
When Lynch used to talk, he sounded like that. When Lynch was at full strength, he used to plow over defensive backs like that — as if they were harmless tackling dummies.
But he hasn’t been at full strength, it seems, at any point this season. A pillar of durability since the Seahawks acquired him in a mid-season 2010 trade with Buffalo, Lynch has battled problems with his calf and hamstring, problems with nausea, and problems with his abdomen.
“He tried,” said Carroll. “We rested him all week, and we rehabbed him all week long, and really the first time we took a real look at it was out here in pregame, and he just couldn’t get going. We’re going to try to take care of him.
“He’s going to make a trip on Monday to go see a doctor in Philadelphia and see if we can figure out what is going on. It’s an abdominal issue, and there’s lots going on there, so we have to see what that all means.”
What it all means, in general terms of football and in specific terms of the Seahawks’ running backs rotation, is that Carroll would be crazy to waste Rawls’ talent on the bench. But that’s what happened after Rawls’ most recent start, when he ran for 169 yards at Cincinnati.
Between that Oct. 18 performance against the Bengals and Sunday, Rawls ran the ball all of 13 times. He was limited to a single carry against Carolina and two carries against Arizona on Nov. 15.
A lot went wrong in that 39-32 defeat, and most of the mistakes involved the offense. Turns out no mistake was more costly than putting together a game plan that didn’t involve Rawls.
Such an oversight won’t occur again.
“Any time you don’t have Marshawn there, you miss him,” Wilson insisted. “He’s the best running back in the NFL, arguably.”
Arguably? There is no argument. Because his body no longer allows him to serve as a one-man battering ram, Marshawn Lynch isn’t the best running back in the NFL any more.
He’s not even the best running back on his own team.