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Originally published January 3, 2014 at 8:30 PM | Page modified January 4, 2014 at 5:53 PM

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Seahawks tough on opposing punt returners

Seattle entered the final game having allowed just 25, well within reach of the NFL 16-game record of 49 by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, and not far off the 14-game record of 22 by the Green Bay Packers in 1967.


/ Seattle Times staff reporter

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RENTON — Hopes of making history for Seattle’s punt-coverage team evaporated in a flash last Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. As St. Louis’ Austin Pettis ran back a punt 32 yards in the third quarter, he also took with him any chance the Seahawks had of setting a record for fewest punt-return yards allowed in a season.

Seattle entered the game having allowed just 25, well within reach of the NFL 16-game record of 49 by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, and not far off the 14-game record of 22 by the Green Bay Packers in 1967.

Instead, Pettis’ return highlighted a day in which the Rams returned five punts for 57 yards, leaving Seattle with a season total of 82 punt-return yards allowed that was second in the NFL behind the 79 of the Rams.

Jeremy Lane, one of Seattle’s primary gunners on the punt-coverage team, said the record was something the team was shooting for and that he knew it was gone the minute he saw Pettis break free.

“Ah, man, to give it up the last game?’’ Lane said this week. “C’mon, man, I’ve been running all year to try to get down there and stop it and then just one little play and it’s gone out the wind, just like that.’’

Now that the disappointment has dissipated, though, Lane says the task for Seattle is to learn from what the Rams were able to do that other teams were not this season.

Lane says the Rams crossed up the Seahawks with a strategy they hadn’t shown on film earlier and that few other teams have tried — double-teaming both of Seattle’s gunners, which on Sunday were Lane and Ricardo Lockette.

“I got double-teamed as usual, and they also double-teamed the other gunner,’’ he said. “They usually don’t do that. They usually double-team me and leave the other gunner single. But they ended up double-teaming both, so we didn’t get any production out of either of us, so the inside guys had to make the plays, and they usually are not in that situation because I am usually the first one down there. So I guess that kind of got away from us.

“… It caught us by surprise. They didn’t do that (on film) all week and then they kind of switched it up on us during the game. Good game by them.’’

Lane says that playoff teams might try something similar, seeing the success of the Rams.

But he said leaving fewer players inside would leave opponents at the risk of Seattle running fakes.

“We have run fakes in the past, so teams are not going to do that all the time,’’ Lane said.

In the big picture, losing the record was a small thing, as Seattle’s punt-coverage team was a key part of the team’s success throughout the season. The Seahawks still shattered the team record for fewest punt-return yards allowed in a 16-game season of 140, set in 2003 (the 1982 team allowed 69 in a season shortened to nine games due to a strike).

Working in tandem with the pinpoint punting of Jon Ryan, Lane was a key reason for the success of the punt-coverage team, often forcing fair catches by being in position to make a tackle before the returner had caught the ball.

Lane, a backup cornerback, finished with 13 special-teams tackles, most on the team.

Some around the team thought Lane’s individual success, coupled with that of the punt-coverage team, might be enough to warrant Lane a berth on the Pro Bowl team.

Instead, the NFC special-teams Pro Bowl spot went to Arizona’s Justin Bethel, who finished with 22 special-teams tackles and also blocked two field goals.

“I was paying attention to it,’’ Lane said, adding that he knows Bethel, who is also a second-year player. “We are pretty cool. When I saw him on there, I was like ‘ah man, I know I should be on there.’ I think he’s a good player, but I think I’m better than him at special teams.

“But it’s all good. Eventually they will see the true, best player out there. So I just took it as another chip on my shoulder to go out there next year and prove that I’m one of the best guys to be out there.’’

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com



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