Michael Bennett gets the attention for his team-leading sacks, his hilarity and plays like bulling Arizona offensive linemen back into their quarterback, as Seattle’s defensive end did Sunday night.
But his partner at defensive end, Cliff Avril, continued to show why he’s been the overlooked but consistently disruptive most valuable player of the Seahawks’ defense this season. Maybe of their entire team.
Avril was just plain unblockable for most of this 39-32 loss to the Arizona Cardinals that likely leaves the Seahawks (4-5) in wild-card-if-that mode for the final seven games of the regular season.
His speeding in free from the left edge of the defense to hit Carson Palmer inside the Cardinals’ 10-yard line began Seattle’s fourth-quarter spurt of two touchdowns off defensive plays. K.J. Wright returned that fumble to the Arizona 3, and Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run on the next play cut Arizona’s lead to 25-23.
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Avril’s brilliance this year has been against the pass and the run. He’s constantly beaten tackles, guards, tight ends and running backs in their attempted blocks, ruined short-yardage plays and forced quarterbacks to throw sooner than they’ve wanted to.
“He’s been incredible,” teammate and All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll agreed with that.
“Cliff continues to just come roaring off the edge,” Carroll said.
FUMING AT ZEBRAS
The Seahawks defense thought it had a second turnover of the first half when Earl Thomas picked up a loose ball after what appeared to be a catch and run by Arizona’s Darren Fells. Officials ruled it an incomplete pass instead, a ruling the replay booth upheld after an inexcusably long delay in reviewing the play and forcing Seattle to call its final time out of the half to do it.
It was the latest example of few knowing exactly what is and is not a catch by rule in the NFL today.
After that reprieve, Arizona increased its lead to 22-7 on Chandler Cantanzaro’s 43-yard field goal as the half ended.
Carroll jogged across both hash marks to confront referee Clete Blakeman immediately after the half ended.
Asked what he thought of Sunday night’s officiating, Carroll said: “I can’t say anything about that. Sorry. We’re not allowed to.”
Seahawks cornerback Cary Williams said “we didn’t get the dialogue we normally get” from the game officials. No warnings that they would call the game tightly, or that players were being too grabby – or explanations of much of anything.
The flags just kept flying. Seattle’s 14 penalties tied for its most since Pete Carroll became coach in 2010. The Seahawks had 14 flags against Green Bay in September 2012.
RICHARDSON INJURED AGAIN
Just after his 40-yard catch zooming down the left sideline signaled his 2015 season debut, Paul Richardson went out during the second quarter with what Carroll called a pulled hamstring. The 2014 second-round draft choice was not seen on the field at the start of the second half.
He had been out from late January until Sunday following his second reconstructive knee surgery in three years. The Seahawks activated him off the physically-unable-to-perform list on Saturday when they put Ricardo Lockette on season-ending injured reserve.
LOCKETTE, VETERAN RAISE “12TH MAN” FLAG
Lockette helped 91-year-old Clayton Pitre, a Congressional Gold Medal honoree who was a corporal in the Marine Corps in World War II, raise the team’s “12th Man” flag just before kickoff. It was the Seahawks’ annual “Salute to Service” game.
Lockette had surgery in Dallas on Nov. 2 to fix disc and ligament damage in his neck the day after a scary hit by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath. The 29-yea- old’s ability to play beyond this season remains unknown. On Sunday he was wearing under a coat a T-shirt with a depiction of his glove handed flashing an “L,”which is what he did as he was stretchered off the field to the hospital on Nov. 1.
Lockette appeared in the locker room following the game and vowed to play again. He also called the pregame ovation he got one of the best moments of his life.
Asked if he expects to play next season, Lockette responded: “I expect to be a Pro Bowler.”
Pitre entered the military at a segregated facility at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina. He delivered ammunition during the Battle of Okinawa from April 1 through June 22, 1945, the last major fight in the Pacific theater of World War II. The native of Louisiana eventually relocated to Washington and graduated from Seattle University in 1968.
The team says Pitre was the seventh veteran in seven Novembers to raise the flag.
LB Bruce Irvin left in the fourth quarter with a sprained medical collateral ligament in his knee and did not return. “We’ll see,” Carroll said, without offering any more on the possible severity. … LT Russell Okung left briefly with an apparent injury to his left ankle, replaced by Alvin Bailey. But Okung returned. … Carroll said WR and kick returner Tyler Lockette has an ankle injury but should be “OK.” … Cardinals G Mike Iupati left the field in an ambulance while strapped to a stretcher after he lowered his head as Seahawks SS Kam Chancellor belted him while Iupati tried to back a pulling block in the first half. The Cardinals reported he had movement and feeling in his extremities. … Seahawks FB/TE/DL Will Tukuafu had the first touchdown of his six-year career, a 1-yard run that cut Arizona’s lead to 19-7 in the second quarter. He also converted a fourth-and-inches out of a run in I formation ahead of Marshawn Lynch in the third quarter. He and fellow former 49er Demarcus Dobbs, a Seahawks DT, were the last two to talk to Iupati before the ambulance drove him off the field to the hospital.