Seattle Seahawks

After injury, doubts, Tyler Lockett zooms back to prominence – just in time

Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) runs down the sideline during a punt return in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) runs down the sideline during a punt return in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. jbessex@gateline.com

There goes Tyler Lock…

He’s back to being so fast, by the time you say his entire name he’s gone.

The Carolina Panthers found that out Sunday night.

Lockett went in motion from wide left across to the right. When Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson got the snap, he slipped the ball to his wide receiver.

Lockett got past one Panther. Then two. Then, four. Then — poof! — Lockett was gone around right end, yes, faster than you can say his name.

Carolina safety Michael Griffin was standing 9 yards off the line of scrimmage near the right sideline. He was unblocked and with the angle to tackle Lockett, or to least shove him out of bounds. Lockett zoomed past Griffin like he was a telephone pole.

Tre Boston, the Panthers’ other safety, was waiting 50 yards downfield, the last man between Lockett and the end zone. Boston also had the angle and 10 yards of preparation to slow Lockett. Lockett blew Boston’s doors off, too.

“Unbelievable!” Seahawks teammate Doug Baldwin exclaimed after the game.

Lockett’s 75-yard touchdown run on the first play after halftime not only cemented the 40-7 rout of the faded defending NFC champions. It showed he has conquered his 2 1/2-month battle with a sprained knee that had for the first 10 games slowed the 2015 rookie Pro Bowl selection to a bit player in Seattle’s struggling offense.

It was a Roadrunner-leaving-Wile-E.-Coyote-in-the-dust-kind of sight. And it’s a potentially season-changing development on offense the Seahawks (8-3-1) will take to Green Bay (6-6) on Sunday with a chance to clinch the NFC West title.

“So fast. SO fast,” Carroll said.

The coach said he timed Lockett covering 40 yards during that touchdown run off the game film.

“It was 4.02 (seconds),” Carroll said.

The fastest 40-yard dash ever recorded electronically at the NFL combine is 4.24 seconds, by running back Chris Johnson in 2008.

Yes, Carroll’s timing of Lockett’s in-game 40 was with a running start.

Still.

“That sideline run that he had, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody run faster on the football field,” Baldwin said. “That was unbelievable.

“I’m so happy for him. He’s struggled through those injuries, and for him to be back and doing what he’s doing, it’s unbelievable. And I’m extremely happy for his success right now.”

Lockett smiled softly when told of Baldwin’s exclamation he’d never seen a football player go that fast. Turns out there’s some history between these two on this matter.

“I think I finally got to hit that extra gear that I’ve been waiting on, and some of my teammates have been waiting on,” Lockett said, “because Doug thinks he’s faster than me.”

Now?

“He said after that play that he doesn’t think he can run with me anymore.”

Now that Lockett’s healthy again, seems no one can.

His speed is what made him a Pro Bowl kick returner last year. It’s why Lockett and Gale Sayers are the only rookies in NFL history to have five receiving touchdowns, a kickoff-return score and a punt-return TD in a season.

His speed is how he set the Seattle franchise rookie record with 1,915 combined yards last season. He had a team-record 139 yards in punt returns in the 2105 regular-season finale at Arizona.

All that plus his return to racing last weekend are why Seahawks general manager John Schneider traded three choices to Washington to trade up to the top of the third round in 2015 to draft Lockett.

Yet after he sprained his knee during Seattle’s loss at Los Angeles in Week 2, way back on Sept. 18, Lockett was stuck in neutral. He returned late in that game on guts alone and caught a 53-yard pass down the left sideline. But because he was limping, Rams cornerback Troy Hill was able to grab him from behind by the ankles and tackle him at the Rams 32. Lockett said after that game had he not been hurt he would sped by Hill and scored. Instead, Christine Michael fumbled three plays later and the Seahawks lost 9-3.

The following week the Seahawks’ third wide receiver with Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse limped through 23 snaps, just a third of the offense’s plays, in the win over San Francisco. It was the first major injury the Kansas State record holder for receiving and kick returns had ever had.

When he wore a bulky brace on his knee for weeks, it was as if a Bugatti had been shackled by a parking boot. Coaches limited his punt returns mostly to fair catches. They replaced him on kickoff returns. He had just 16 catches over nine games. That culminated in zero receptions on six targets two weeks ago in the loss at Tampa Bay, the second of three games without a touchdown this season for the Seahawks.

Lockett was asked after his breakout return against the Panthers last weekend what he learned from those grinding months when, for the first time, speed wasn’t his essence but his frustration.

He admits doubt, even thoughts of white-flagging his season.

“I think it told me a lot. The biggest thing that I learned is that I have to continue to keep on fighting,” he said. “I never had a season like this with the injuries that I’ve had earlier on. It seems like sometimes you feel like you want to give up.

“You question everything, and you don’t know what’s going on. For me, I just had to continue to depend on my faith and continue to press on. The biggest thing is that I just had to continue to fight and continue to press on and continue to accept the game plan and everything that the coaches were doing — and just trust it.

“I knew that it was going to come. And it came (last weekend).”

Just in time for to spark the Seahawks’ inconsistent offense for its drive back to the playoffs. A win over the Packers and a loss by the Cardinals (5-6-1) at Miami (7-5) would give Seattle the division title for the third time in four seasons.

“Sometimes I look back and think about how I was hurt in Week 2, and now look,” Lockett said. “You see the fight and you see the passion that you had to be able to get yourself back in the lineup. And to get yourself right.”

THOMAS TO IR, JERON JOHNSON BACK

The Seahawks officially ended Earl Thomas’ season on Tuesday. As expected, they put the three-time All-Pro free safety on injured reserve two days after he broke his tibia.

Seattle signed free agent safety Jeron Johnson is back to the team with which he played from 2011-14. Johnson, 28, was a cornerback and safety for Seattle, then a strong safety and free safety in 2015 for Washington. Kansas City released him this preseason. Since then he’s had tryouts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, among others.

Johnson seemed happy with the reunion. He posted on Twitter: “#HomeSweetHome”

As reported Monday, the Seahawks signed former University of Washington receiver and Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece. Reece made the Pro Bowl in 2012, ’13 and ’14 before the Raiders released him at age 30 following the 2015 season.

The team released running back George Farmer to make room on the active roster for Reece. Fullback Will Tukuafu is in the league’s concussion protocol for a concussion, so it’s conceivable Reece could play Sunday in Green Bay, depending on how game-ready his body proves to be this week.

EXTRA POINTS

The team also made two practice-squad moves. It signed defensive tackle Shaneil Jenkins and released former Washington Huskies wide receiver Kevin Smith again. … Thomas on IR means the Seahawks have just one of their own first-round draft choice on the active roster. That’s rookie starting right guard Germain Ifedi.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

Seahawks’ next opponent

GREEN BAY PACKERS (6-6)

1:25 p.m. Sunday, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Against the Seahawks: This is the 17th meeting in the regular season, in which Green Bay holds a 9-7 series edge. The Packers have won two of the three playoff meetings, both at Lambeau. They have lost three of their last four against the Seahawks, including Seattle’s overtime win in the January 2015 NFC championship game at CenturyLink Field. The Packers won last September’s meeting in Green Bay 27-17, the Seahawks’ largest margin of defeat in the last five seasons. Seattle’s last win at Green Bay was on Nov. 1, 1999. Jon Kitna threw two touchdown passes for the Seahawks and Brett Favre threw four interceptions in the Packers’ 27-7 loss.

Line: Seahawks by 2 1/2.

What to know: The Packers have won two straight, at Philadelphia and in the snow last weekend at home against Houston, to stay in the NFC North race. They are two games behind the division-leading Lions with a win over them this season and a game still to play at Detroit in over the final four weeks. … Aaron Rodgers has criticized teammates for not playing with enough zest — and been criticized himself this season. Yet he’s second in the NFL with 29 touchdown passes, against seven interceptions. … He’s been sacked 25 times in 12 games, 13th-most in the league. … His 99.4 passer rating is 10th-highest in the NFL. His most effective throws have been quick strikes and short. … Rodgers has three straight games with a rating of at least 100. … Jordy Nelson’s 10 TD catches are second-most in the league, one behind Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. Nelson has 69 catches this season. … Green Bay’s running game remains a weakness and is keeping the offense pass-heavy. Rodgers averages the fifth-most passes per game in the NFL, a shade under 40 throws per game. James Starks is by definition the lead back, but last week against Houston, the Packers used a rotation of Christine Michael, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski to run the ball. Green Bay is one of nine NFL teams to average fewer than 100 yards rushing per game. … Michael has 10 carries for 23 yards in two games for the Packers. It’s his fourth team in 13 months. … The Packers are 13th in total offense, 10th in passes and 11th in points per game. .. Two big reasons the Packers haven’t been above .500 in more than a month: They give up a lot of points (25.3 per game, ranked 23rd in the league); and they are minus-5 in turnover margin. The offense has fumbled 20 times in 12 games, losing nine. … Green Bay allowed 33, 31, 47 and 42 points in consecutive losses to Atlanta, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Washington from Oct. 30 through Nov. 20. … Green Bay is last in yards passing allowed per play (7.7) and 24th in yards per play allowed (5.8). … But the Packers have gotten to opposing QBs. They are fourth in sacks per pass play. Outside linebacker Nick Perry and Julius Peppers have 14½ sacks combined through 12 games. They will challenge the Seahawks’ tackles, undrafted rookie George Fant on the left and Bradley Sowell on the right. … Pro Bowl LB Clay Matthews is playing with one healthy arm, the result of a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder he suffered two games ago. He was primarily a third-down pass rusher last weekend against Houston.

Quotable: “I told the team this the other day, ‘Until you win 10 games in this league, it’s nonsense to talk about anything else.’ So we’re not worried about Detroit or any other team out there or what anybody’s record is. We have six wins, and we know we’ve got to get to seven — fast.” — Packers coach Mike McCarthy to Wisconsin media, on what he feels is the minimum number of wins to make the playoffs.

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