GLENDALE, Ariz. — Wearing a boot on his right foot, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman hobbled to the podium on crutches and began his news conference by poking fun at the bright green suit he was wearing, saying it looked much cooler before Thursday night’s game.
Sherman was trying to lighten the mood knowing he was about to discuss the ruptured Achilles that will end his season.
He was fighting back tears a few minutes later.
“We just have to stay positive,” Sherman said through a choked-up voice when asked about the mood in Seattle’s locker room after his injury. “That’s all you can do.”
That won’t be easy. There are no two ways about it: Sherman’s injury deals a massive blow to the Seahawks’ defense and a potentially fatal one to Seattle’s hopes of reaching the Super Bowl.
“It’s going to be tough,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the league. There’s no doubt about it. When he’s out there, nobody even looks to throw to that side. If he’s out, it’s going to be tough, but we have the players to step up and hopefully he does something miraculous and comes back.”
You can understand why Wagner would be hoping for a miracle that would allow Sherman to return. That’s how important Sherman has been to Seattle’s defense during his six-plus seasons.
Since the Seahawks drafted Sherman in the fifth round in 2011, their defense has ranked first in opponent QBR (49.4), first in yards allowed per game (300.1) and first in passing yards allowed per game (203.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
On throws outside of the numbers on the left side of Seattle’s defense — where Sherman has primarily lined up — the Seahawks have been first in completion percentage (51 percent), first in touchdown-to-interception ratio (0.81) and first in total QBR (42).
His 32 career interceptions are six more than any other player since 2011, even though quarterbacks started becoming much less inclined to throw his way after his first few seasons.
Before Thursday, he had missed only five snaps this season while playing the fourth-highest percentage (99 percent) of any NFL cornerback, even though he had regularly been on Seattle’s injury report. He has never missed a game in his career, with Thursday marking his 105th consecutive appearance, tied for the third-longest streak among active cornerbacks.
That streak will come to an end.
And so, for the second straight season, the Seahawks will find out what life is like without one of their defensive pillars. Last year it was free safety Earl Thomas, who had made 106 consecutive starts to begin his career before injuring his hamstring in November and then suffering a season-ending leg fracture two weeks later. Seattle’s pass defense fell apart without him.
The Seahawks have a better replacement option at cornerback this year than they did at free safety last year, when Steven Terrell was pressed into action having never started a game in his career. Jeremy Lane, who was benched earlier this season in favor of rookie Shaquill Griffin, then was nearly traded, will move back into a starting role. With Sherman out, coach Pete Carroll called it “hugely important” to have gotten Lane back when his inclusion in the Duane Brown trade was nixed over a failed physical.
“Jeremy’s a starter. He was a starter at the start of the season,” Carroll said. “Shaq has shown that he’s a starter, too.”
But they’re not Sherman. Nobody is.
“I don’t even know how to address that right now,” Carroll said when asked about losing a player who has been such a constant for six-plus seasons. “He’s been just a bastion of consistency and competitiveness and toughness through all of the stuff that we’ve worked through together and all of it. It’s been awesome. It’s been hard, it’s been challenging and he’s been an extraordinary, almost an iconic player in this league. So he’s going to have to sit.”
Carroll nearly became emotional as he continued talking.
“I’ll try not to go overboard on this, but that’s just the way I feel about it,” he said. “We’ll miss the heck out of him. He’ll be with us every step of the way when he can, but we’ll miss the heck out of him.”