The iconic iPhone ring tone sounded shortly before midnight Pacific Time, at the end of a riveting and revealing second Sunday of the 2013 NFL regular season, and the man on the other end of the line sounded energized enough to suit up and do it all over again.
"We have a mindset," Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said, his team's 29-3 smackdown of the San Francisco 49ers at rain-soaked CenturyLink Field still fresh in the psyches of those who witnessed it. "We have a standard. There's a level to this -- we strive to play at a certain level. We have a lot of guys that want to be the best, guys who play like they're the best, and it emanates around our team. We have a lot of guys with a lot of dog in them, and when we play together, it makes us hard to beat."
Sherman, contrary to the caricature that fuels his public portrayal, was neither gloating nor goading his vanquished rivals. Though he has been known to instigate -- and admittedly is one of those Seahawks who plays with a Space Needle-sized chip on his shoulder -- Sherman is a dedicated professional who cares deeply about his craft. The way he and his teammates performed on "Sunday Night Football" was a testament to collective excellence.
On a day that featured the dramatic emergence of a rookie passer (EJ Manuel -- more on him shortly), a future Hall of Famer's continued mastery over his younger brother (Peyton over Eli Manning) and a revitalized coach's second consecutive triumph in advance of his return to the City of Brotherly Love (Andy Reid), it was the Seahawks' smothering defense that made the loudest statement of all.
If you subscribed to the notion going into the season, as I did, that these NFC West rivals are the two best teams in football, this Niners-'Hawks clash was steeped in significance.
On Sunday, even after an early blocked punt (under dubious circumstances) put San Francisco 33 yards from the end zone, the Seahawks' defense dominated the game. Kaepernick (13-for-28, 127 yards), looking harried and discombobulated, threw three interceptions -- including one to Sherman, who shadowed Boldin all night and held the physical wideout to one catch for 7 yards.
And while there's no guarantee that the Dec. 8 rematch in San Francisco will follow a similar script, the bottom line is this: The Seahawks are in the Niners' heads right now, and they savored every waterlogged minute of Sunday night's evisceration, even the hour-long lightning delay that interrupted the game in the first quarter.
"We were just having fun out there," Seattle safety Earl Thomas told me via telephone after the game. "It was like a party. It was a prime-time game, and the whole world got to see us dominate. Everybody got to see who the best team was. We want to be great, but we put in the work, too. We grind hard. And when we do what we did tonight, we have the right to talk."
To get a glimpse into the mindset of Thomas and his fellow defenders -- and, particularly, those who comprise a stellar secondary known as "The Legion of Boom" -- consider their reaction to the adversity that struck following the Seahawks' first possession: With Seattle punting after a three-and-out, a whistle from the crowd seemed to fool several 'Hawks players, many of whom left their stance and should have been flagged for a false start. Instead, they froze in place as the Niners converged on punter Jon Ryan, with Craig Dahl blocking the kick.
On the sideline, several Seahawks players and coaches cried foul. The crowd groaned. San Francisco had a golden opportunity to strike first blood.
And Sherman and his fellow defenders?
"We were excited," the All-Pro cornerback insisted. "We love a chance to stand up and show what we're made of. We were amped up. The Legion of Boom is something to be reckoned with, and we let our play do the talking."
After the Niners drove to the 5-yard line, where they faced a third-and-goal, the Seahawks made the play that changed the game: Kaepernick's pass to tight end Vernon Davis was deflected by lunging cornerback Walter Thurmond (subbing for the injured Brandon Browner, an oversized mauler and key Legion of Boom contributor), and Thomas broke on the ball and snatched it just in front of the goal line, returning it to the Seattle 12.
Following the weather-induced delay, during which Sherman said the Seahawks were literally dancing in the locker room, Seattle forced a second-quarter safety (on a holding call in the end zone) to snap the scoreless tie, then broke open the game in the second half with three Marshawn Lynch touchdowns.
When it was over, Seattle's place atop our weekly pecking order (see below) had been resoundingly secured -- a standing that's not likely to be jeopardized next week, when the bottom-feeding Jacksonville Jaguars roll into CenturyLink for a game that has survivor-pool gimme written all over it.
Then again, as we were reminded earlier Sunday, it doesn't take much for a downtrodden team to accumulate a hearty helping of hope ...
On second-and-1 from the Carolina 2, with six seconds remaining, Manuel lined up to take a shotgun snap. The formation featured three Bills receivers, with veteran Stevie Johnson -- the primary option -- in the slot on the left side.
Johnson, a sixth-year veteran who has been so heavily invested in the franchise's struggles, desperately wanted to make the game-winning grab. Yet when he heard Panthers nickelback D.J. Moore instruct cornerback Josh Norman (who was lined up on the outside, opposite Bills wideout Chris Hogan) to cover the corner route -- Johnson's designed destination -- he figured it wasn't meant to be.
"The read is to me, and if they switch off, we go to the guy underneath the defender (Hogan)," Johnson explained to me Sunday night. "The defender in front of me (Moore) was telling his guy on the outside, 'You got the corner route,' so I thought, 'I'm done. I'm not gonna get the ball.' "
What happened next was the type of surreal development that, on too many occasions, has doomed the Bills to heartbreaking defeats: Hogan broke inside, underneath Johnson, and both defensive backs followed. Johnson slipped to the left corner of the end zone, completely alone, and Manuel lofted a pass that, if completed, would allow him to become the fifth NFL rookie since 1960 to lead a fourth-quarter comeback victory within his first two games.
All Johnson had to do was catch the ball. As it headed for his hands, his professional football life flashed before his eyes.
"Man, Mike, I thought about everything in those few moments," Johnson said. "What would happen if I caught it ... what has happened ... the disappointments of the past ... the present ... even last week (a heartbreaking, 23-21 defeat to the New England Patriots in the final seconds). I thought about games like the one we lost here to the Steelers in 2010 (when a wide-open Johnson dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass). Within that split-second, all of that went through my head."
After a downed squib kick, the Panthers had a shot at a Hail Mary attempt from their own 40, well within Cam Newton's throwing range. Johnson trotted back onto the field as an emergency defensive back, stationed, once again, in the corner of the end zone -- this time without a negative thought in his head.
"Man, heck no," he said, laughing. "I'm thinking, I'm about to have a game-winning touchdown and an interception in the same game."
And what was the locker room like after the game? Alonso's one-word assessment, via text message: "Ecstatic."
Said Johnson: "It's just one game, so we can't really celebrate that much. But it's huge for us. We all know what went on in the past with the Buffalo Bills, but it's a new regime, with a new quarterback, and we're 1-1 and on a high."
So, how high should the 1-1 Bills reside in our weekly accounting of the league's franchises? That, football fans, is yet another question we're compelled to pose in the wake of a suspense-filled Sunday:
15) Kansas City Chiefs: How awesome would it be if Andy Reid marked his return to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night by wearing a Santa suit -- and if he did, is there any doubt Big Red would be booed by the Philly fans?
19) Philadelphia Eagles: After insisting that Philly tried to acquire Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson during the spring of 2012, did an unnamed Eagles source also claim that the franchise nearly bought Google in the summer of 2002?
32) Jacksonville Jaguars: After an Orlando TV station felt compelled to rationalize showing the Jags' game against the Raiders, wouldn't it have been fabulous if owner Shad Khan had responded, "And I apologize for any inconvenience caused by the city of Orlando's existence"?