Ian O’ConnorESPN Senior Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Above all else, Cardinals-Seahawks was painful enough on the eyes to advance the notion that bad prime-time football — not just surreal prime-time politics — is contributing to the NFL’s ratings decline. I mean, who really wanted to watch two kickers secure a tie at the end of overtime by making like a couple of extras off the set of “The Walking Dead?”
How in the world did Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro miss wide left? And then a few minutes later, how in the world did Seattle’s Steven Hauschka miss really, really wide left? Pete Carroll raised his arms in sweet triumph after the first wayward kick, and then looked like he’d seen a ghost — or at least a replay of Malcolm Butler‘s Super Bowl interception in this very stadium — after the second.
But even if the NFC West standings won’t reflect it, there has to be a winner declared in every tie. And the heavyweight champ-eeeeen of this tie was Richard Sherman.
In the locker room after this bizarre 6-6 game, Sherman did not act like anyone’s idea of a champ. He emerged from behind a curtain with his arm wrapped around Bobby Wagner, leaning on the linebacker as he winced and moaned and limped across the room to his stall. Sherman slumped into his chair in beaten-man form, and lowered his head as teammates and staffers whispered to him.
He shook and shivered like a man who had just been pulled from arctic waters. Carroll sat down beside him, and others patted him gently on the back. A team publicist said Sherman was cramping up and in no condition to talk to the media at his locker. The cornerback had a little trouble putting on his watch, his gray hoodie, and his headphones as he prepared to exit stage left. Soon enough he rose from his chair, wrapped an arm around a staffer, and limped out of the room.
This was the picture of an athlete who had no blood, sweat or tears left to give. Sherman had gone head to head with Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest receivers of all time, and won the most fascinating battle of an otherwise maddening night. In the second quarter, Sherman stopped Fitzgerald short of a first down, raised his fist to the University of Phoenix Stadium roof, and forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Palmer put Fitzgerald in position to get blasted, and blast the receiver Sherman did before turning to his sideline to celebrate the pancake hit.
In overtime, Sherman was on top of Fitzgerald on an incomplete pass over the middle that inspired calls from the crowd for a penalty flag that (rightfully) never came. In the end, though, he wasn’t on the receiver full time, and Sherman helped hold Fitzgerald to just 70 yards — on nine catches — over five quarters.
“Two hundred games, including playoffs,” Fitzgerald would say. “I have never played in a game as crazy as this one before.”
Richard Sherman, a crazy talent, was the best player on the field, even if his 245-pound buddy, Wagner, delivered the highlight of the night by making a Bob Beamon leap over the offensive line and blocking a field goal attempt with his chest. Never mind the padded stats of Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer in the end. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass, and both were swatted around the ballpark pretty good by defenses with vile intentions.
Wilson had 60 passing yards after three quarters and had the damnedest time escaping the rush, in part because he’s dealing with lingering leg issues. He tried a keeper on a zone read early in the game, and when he hobbled left and straight into the clutches of Tony Jefferson he looked about as nimble as an aging Joe Namath on two bum knees.
It was fitting that Seattle’s lone scoring drive in regulation was started by a blocked punt and covered a grand total of zero yards on four plays. The Seahawks’ offense was a few country miles beyond pathetic. Wilson isn’t the same player, and Seattle isn’t the same team, when he can’t advance the ball with his legs (he’d rushed for 2,430 yards in his first four seasons, and for 33 yards on 22 carries so far this year).
“He’s busting his tail to do everything he can,” Carroll said.
The ever-reassuring coach worked his locker room Sunday night, reminding Hauschka of his past contributions and confessing to others that he had no idea how to make sense of what he called “an amazing football game.” Mostly Carroll was telling people that he was overjoyed with his team’s effort, with Kelcie McCray‘s game-saving shoestring tackle of J.J. Nelson, and with the ensuing goal line stand that forced the Cardinals to take and miss that kick.
“These guys couldn’t walk off the field,” Carroll said of his players. “They’re so drained.”
Nobody was more spent than Sherman, the same guy whose sideline meltdown last week against Atlanta could be compared to Jack Nicholson’s in “The Shining.” Sherman is a big personality with big opinions. He is also one of the smartest and most thoughtful athletes in professional sports.
But if you were watching close enough here, despite the fact that Nelson broke away from him on that near touchdown, you could see just how great of a football player Sherman really is. Fitzgerald could go down as a top five all-time receiver. If the game was a draw, their game within the game was not.
So Sherman walked out of the Cardinals’ ballpark a winner. Even if he could barely walk.