Christine Michael just learned what differences a few days in the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately NFL can bring.
A new (well, old) team. A new number. And a completely new life.
“Right. It is a big difference, man,” Michael said.
A week ago Tuesday, Michael awoke in suburban Washington, D.C., and went on his way to the Redskins’ headquarters as a member of that team’s practice squad. Hours later, he was unemployed. Washington terminated the unfulfilled running back’s contract without him appearing in a game.
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Hours after that, his phone rang. The Seahawks wanted — needed — their second-round draft choice from 2013 back. Marshawn Lynch was nowhere near returning from abdominal surgery. And his replacement, Thomas Rawls, had just gone on injured reserve with a broken ankle.
Michael jumped on a plane and flew across the country, back to the team that drafted him two years ago. Before he signed the free-agent contract Wednesday that spawned this unexpected, second chance with the Seahawks, Michael sat down with coach Pete Carroll.
Carroll explained what he and the Seahawks wanted. More commitment. More selflessness. And above all, more production than he showed for two frustrating seasons plus this summer’s preseason before the team traded him to the Dallas Cowboys.
Four days later, Michael showed all that and more. He rushed for a career- and game-high 84 yards on 16 carries in the Seahawks’ fifth consecutive win, 30-13 over Cleveland. It clinched Seattle’s fourth consecutive postseason appearance and 10th playoffs in 13 years.
The 25-year-old runner now poised to be the lead back for the Seahawks’ final two regular-season games and possibly into the playoffs.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” Michael said in the locker room Sunday. “I was on the scout team. I was at Dallas. And now I’m back here. I just got to take it a day at a time, a play at a time, and be the best me that I can be.
“It’s a blessing, man. It’s incredible. I feel like I’ve got to put it all out there for the team. Those guys gave me a second chance, another chance, and those guys gave me a chance from the beginning. And I feel like I have to do everything they tell me to do. Whether it’s special teams, whatever it is, I have to go out there and perform.”
Carroll isn’t naming Michael the starter for the St. Louis Rams game Sunday. He said Bryce Brown, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills reserve who just played his first game in a year, and Michael will share lead roles in practice this week.
That may be so Seattle keeps versatility in its rushing options.
Michael didn’t even start against the Browns. Derrick Coleman did, though the usual fullback had only five carries for 10 yards. That’s because Michael and Brown (43 yards on nine carries) were better.
Still, Michael was the primary reason the Seahawks romped for 182 yards on the ground against the Browns to stay atop the league in rushing offense.
“Christine’s got such fast feet. He’s so quick to change directions,” Carroll said. “Bryce is a more downhill guy, more of a slasher, runs bigger. They’re just made differently and they run differently.”
Or it may be the coach’s way to keep Michael maintaining this new, nothing-for-granted edge.
That’s been the difference between this past week’s Michael and the frustrating one the Seahawks gave up on in September when Rawls beat him out to be Lynch’s backup.
When he faced the Rams in October 2014 in St. Louis, Michael could be seen from the press box pouting while in formation just before the snap. He got pulled from the field for that, then berated by a coach on the Seahawks’ sidelines.
A month later at San Francisco, Michael caught a pass outside on second-and-13. He then inexplicably stepped out of bounds a yard short of the first-down marker as 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite approached him. After the play ended he celebrated by yelling and running down the 49ers’ sideline. He got yanked for that, too.
Seattle failed on the ensuing third-and-1 and had to kick a field goal instead of continuing the drive toward a touchdown.
Quarterback Russell Wilson said he noticed this new dedication in Michael during this summer’s training camp.
“This offseason, I thought his work ethic was unbelievable,” Wilson said Monday.
“He took it to another level I thought this offseason, and it’s paid off. To see him (Sunday) out there, number 32, just seeing him run the ball with explosiveness, with such quickness to the hole, was exciting to see.”
The low cost gamble by Carroll and general manager John Schneider that yet another discarded player with a chip on his shoulder will have extra incentive to perform is already paying off.
Michael is providing the Seahawks with hope he can be a bridge from this Rams game and the regular-season finale at NFC West-champion Arizona on Jan. 3 to when Lynch might return for the start of the playoffs Jan. 9 or 10.
“(He’s) just very determined. Very determined to be right where he’s supposed to be,” Carroll said. “Not in stuff on the outside, not having too much fun with what’s going on and just being in the moment. His mindfulness has really shown up, trying to be there for his teammates. He demonstrated that throughout (the past week).
“He cherishes this opportunity more than he ever has, I think. This is the most important opportunity he’s ever been faced with. And he appreciates that.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Seahawks’ next opponent
ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-8)
1:25 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field
Line: Seahawks by 13 1/2.
Against the Seahawks: Seattle leads the regular-season series 21-13. The Rams beat the Seahawks in the season opener, 34-31, in overtime Sept. 13, after tying the game with 53 seconds to go in regulation when fill-in safety Dion Bailey fell down trying to cover St. Louis tight end Lance Kendricks on a touchdown. The Rams have lost 10 consecutive games at Seattle. Their last win at CenturyLink Field was Jan. 8, 2005, 27-20, in an NFC wild-card game.
What to know: The Rams have followed five consecutive losses with wins over the Lions and Buccaneers behind new quarterback Case Keenum, who’s replaced woeful Nick Foles. … Rob Boras replaced Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator before the Detroit game and has re-emphasized relying on likely rookie-of-the-year Todd Gurley, who has 1,023 yards rushing with nine touchdowns. Boras has had Gurley run 16 and 21 times in the past two weeks, as St. Louis has scored 21 and 31 points. In the past two games before the Rams fired Cignetti, Gurley ran nine and nine times as St. Louis lost 31-7 at Cincinnati and 27-3 to Arizona. … The Rams will have had 10 days between games when they kick off Sunday in Seattle. … Foles completed just 56 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a meager passer rating of 69.0 in his first season with St. Louis before coach Jeff Fisher had seen enough by mid-November. … Keenum has completed 62 percent of his passes with three TDs, one interception and a passer rating of 94.0. … The Rams are 31st in scoring and 31st overall in total offense — seventh in rushing and dead last, 32nd, in passing. … The Rams have the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, Aaron Donald. His 11 sacks are among the league leaders. He has 20 sacks in his 30 league games, including two of Russell Wilson in September and four in his three career games against Seattle. … The Rams’ defense has 36 sacks in 14 games. It blitzed the Seahawks from all sides in September’s opener and sacked Wilson six times. … St. Louis is 12th in scoring defense in the NFL. It is 22nd in total defense, 23rd against the run and 21st against the pass.
Quotable: “Other than maybe the birth of our first child, that might have been the most nervous I’ve ever been.” — Boras, the Rams’ new offensive coordinator, to St. Louis media this week about throwing up multiple times before his first game on the job Dec. 13.