Like clockwork, it’s Kam Chancellor time.
It happens pretty much every season around this time: The heartbeat of the Seattle defense struggles with injuries in the first half and then catches a second wind and helps the Hawks sail to the Super Bowl.
This time it was a four-week absence due to a groin injury. And, on cue, Chancellor returned vs. New England and came up with a couple of late-game plays that earned him honors as NFC defensive player of the week.
As the Hawks head down the second-half stretch, angling for another Super Bowl run, Chancellor looks ready to lead the defense the way he did in the 2013 and 2014 title game seasons. And it also looks like he is re-affirming his long-term place with the team.
In both 2013 and 2014, Chancellor overcame injuries to star in the last month or so of the season and the playoffs.
In 2013, he dealt with ankle and hip problems for much of the season but played at an All-Pro level for most of the way anyway. He saved his best for the postseason (35 tackles and two interceptions in three games) and should have been the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII (the 43-8 blowout of the Broncos).
In 2014, he struggled through the first two months with ankle, groin and hip issues. After sitting for two games at midseason, he returned reinvigorated. The defense had been stumbling along, but — after a meeting of team leaders — Chancellor turned into a more vocal leader and once again had a stellar finish to the season. The Kam-Cam playoff game vs. Carolina was his crowning moment, and he somehow played the Super Bowl two days after suffering an MCL injury.
By the end of 2014, Chancellor had firmly cemented his place in the heart of the defense and in the hearts of fans. But, by the beginning of 2015, he had let all that love go to his head — deciding to stage an ill-conceived holdout that lasted until the third game.
Once he returned, he made few impact plays, seeming instead to protect himself from injury. Yeah, he made the big play against Detroit in his second game back, but otherwise he did very little. He also missed the final three games with a pelvis injury.
Some will point out his big forced fumble against Adrian Peterson in the playoff game against Minnesota, but those people obviously forget Chancellor’s big pass interference penalty that would have cost the Hawks the game if Blair Walsh had not missed a chip shot field goal.
After the 2015 debacle, it was no sure thing that Chancellor would remain with the team this year — one rumor had the Seahawks almost trading him to Chicago in March. But he and John Schneider apparently worked things out, and Chancellor is looking more like the 2013-14 Pro Bowl safety who rallied from ailments to help lead the Hawks to the Super Bowl.
“We’ve seen Kam come back before from injuries,” Pete Carroll said. “He just lit it up in the week of practice. He was so physically right, really lean and fast during the week. Legs were fresh. You could just tell he was ready and primed to go, and it carried right into the game.”
Chancellor has a very specific role for Seattle. He has never been great in coverage — witness his pass interference on Rob Gronkowski in the first half Sunday — but he is a punishing hitter, a strong run defender and the leader of the defense. He also has a habit of making game-changing plays in big games — like he did at New England — and turning it on when it counts.
“He played a terrific football game, getting after the football a couple times, really huge, and the tackles that he made, the coverage challenges that he had,” Carroll said. “(The Patriots) were good. They’re just good at throwing and catching. And he was all over guys. He played a very competitive game with some big plays, and … it gives him a chance to be recognized like that.”
Of course, the recognition Chancellor would prefer is the kind that comes in the form of cash. He made that clear in 2015, and it seems pretty likely that Schneider will work out a new deal for the safety next offseason.
The Seahawks are projected to have more than $30 million in cap space, which is more than enough to extend Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Jimmy Graham while also keeping other key players such as DeShawn Shead and Steven Hauschka.
Before that, though, Chancellor needs to keep playing like he did in New England and help the Seahawks win another Super Bowl.