The U.S. Geological Survey was put on notice Sunday in Charlotte, but the area escaped without any “Beast Quake-related” damage as the Carolina Panthers held off the returning Marshawn Lynch and the two-time defending NFC kingpin Seattle Seahawks, 31-24, to reach the NFC Championship Game next Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The enigmatic Lynch has missed about two months of action after abdominal surgery and probably shouldn’t have even had an opportunity to take one final bow as a member of the Seahawks because Seattle was outplayed in Minneapolis a week earlier before an almost unthinkable 27-yard miss on a gimme field-goal attempt by Blair Walsh confirmed the team’s reservations to the Tar Heel State.
Lynch, of course, was on track to play in Minnesota until begging off on the Friday before the game, claiming he wasn’t ready. With another week to get ready, the star running back did make the trip to Tobacco Road and was set to be a big part of the game plan until the Panthers got out of the blocks like Usain Bolt.
A quick 14-0 advantage after a Luke Kuechly pick-six eventually expanded to 31-0 by halftime. With the Carolina defense featuring a ferocious front seven and a defensive backfield struggling with injuries, Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wisely holstered the running game at intermission and embarked on a furious comeback that came up a touchdown short.
For Lynch, the man who has defined the Seahawks’ offense during this run, it was a tough way to go out in what was more than likely his last game with Seattle.
The NFL is a business and a $9 million price tag, along with the development of Thomas Rawls when Lynch was down this year, almost assures that the former All-Pro will be filing a change of address form this offseason. Or Lynch, who will turn 30 in April and has talked about retirement the last two years, could simply walk away rather than start over in another city.
“That’s up to him,” star cornerback Richard Sherman said when asked if Lynch would play next year. “If I could read Beast Mode’s mind, people would give me a lot of money.”
The only option that isn’t on the table for Lynch is moving forward with the Seahawks at his current price tag, meaning his pedestrian 20-yard performance against the sturdy Carolina front was likely his last opportunity.
Considering his history, it’s hard to imagine Lynch coming back at a reduced price and as Seattle’s offensive success without him this season exemplifies, as does Kansas City’s without Jamaal Charles, the running back position as a whole has never been more devalued in the NFL.
Lynch, of course, never likes talking with the media and Sunday was no exception, leaving Carroll to address his likely curtain call with the Seahawks.
“He didn’t get much of a chance,” Carroll admitted. “He didn’t get the opportunity to get going. Even the first run (a 3-yard loss), he kind of got loose in the backfield. Heck, he didn’t have a shot. He tried hard.”
In the past trying hard, meant broken tackles and historic runs. On Sunday, it meant Kawann Short in the backfield creating havoc and next year it means the far cheaper alternative, Rawls, will be taking those read-option looks from Russell Wilson, something Sherman was cognizant of.
The All-Pro corner was already talking about his teammate in the past tense post-game.
“I’ll remember him being a Beast,” he said. ”Beast Mode. That’s trademark now. If he’s strapping up his pads, he’s going to give you everything he’s got. …That’s what you can appreciate. He’s an outstanding teammate and an outstanding guy, on and off the field. I’ll remember him as a phenomenal person who will give you the shirt off his back.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season every day at 4:05 ET on ESPN South Jersey, on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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