Thrust into the starting lineup for the regular-season finale and the wild-card game, Michael ran with authority while moving the chains in the most promising two-game stretch of his disappointing career. Immediately thereafter, multiple Seahawks coaches noted that a suddenly disciplined Michael was truly humbled by his failings.
"This is a classic example of if you just keep hoping and you stay with it and you give guys chances that sometimes they come right through for you," coach Pete Carroll explained in mid-January. "This is looking like that. It's only a few games, but they're really strong indicators that he's ready to take advantage of this opportunity. Nothing less than what we had hoped for a while back."
Michael carried that newfound maturity into the offseason, emerging as the leader in a running back room missing Marshawn Lynch for the first time in a half decade.
When Darrell Bevell was asked last week why fans should believe in Michael, Seattle's offensive coordinator responded, "He's had an awakening."
Where Michael struggled prior to last winter's epiphany was in the mastery of fundamentals. He was reluctant to switch the ball to his left hand when the situation called for it. Even more troubling, he struggled to read the holes in Tom Cable's zone blocking scheme, leading to hesitation in his first crucial steps toward the line of scrimmage.
The preseason game film suggests he has overcome those issues.
"Physically, I think he's showed greater consistency hitting things the way we expect him to hit them. He was kind of a loose cannon (before)," Carroll said early this week. "Mentally, certainly he's different. He's grown up."
Michael was a revelation versus the Vikings Thursday night, showcasing the vision, explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability of an elite NFL running back. He also lined up out wide for the second straight week, evidence that the coaches have no qualms about utilizing him in the passing game. These are demonstrated traits that Michael will carry into September versus legitimate NFL defenses.
We know that a healthy Rawls is a stud running back. Now that Michael has seen the light, Carroll boasts a pair of exciting playmakers in his backfield.
Here's what else we learned from Thursday's preseason games:
- We thought Blair Walsh had redeemed himself from his playoff miss against Seattle last season with his 27-yarder in the second quarter. It turns out, Walsh is still searching for his atonement. With less than three minutes remaining in the game, Walsh had the opportunity to make what could have been a game-winning 47-yard field goal. Like his playoff miss last season, however, Walsh hooked it left. Marcus Sherels bailed the kicker out with his game-winning pick-six off Trevone Boykin just four plays later, but Walsh's lack of clutchness still looms large in Minnesota.
- Playing without four of the Patriots' top weapons in the passing game, Jimmy Garoppolo started slowly and finished in strong fashion for the second consecutive week. Once again, he wasn't quite as impressive as the box score might suggest. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was held out of action after accidentally slicing his thumb on a pair of scissors.
- Pay no attention to the speculation that LeGarrette Blount is on the roster bubble. New England's most impressive offensive player Thursday night, Blount is locked in as the between-the-tackles hammer.
- For all of the hype lavished upon Sammie Coates this month, the second-year Steelers receiver has been outplayed by Eli Rogers in the first two preseason games. Although Coates made a spectacular toe-tapping sideline grab and a second nice hands catch, he was out-contested on a pair of interceptions and charged with an offensive pass interference penalty. A favorite of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Rogers is emerging as the favorite to enter Week 1 as the slot receiver.
- The Cowboys' backup quarterback failures have garnered national attention over the past couple of years, but the Steelers haven't done any better behind Ben Roethlisberger. Former fourth-round draft pick Landry Jones hasn't developed into a reliable backup and veteran Bruce Gradkowski is out indefinitely with a torn hamstring. Will we see another Mike Vick sighting in Pittsburgh?
- Undrafted rookie Paul Turner is making a push for a roster spot in Philadelphia. He led the team in receiving for the second straight week and has been the most consistent wideout in training camp (which tells us plenty about the Eagles receivers). "He's really beginning to stand out," coach Doug Pederson said after Thursday's victory.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Stafford looks very comfortable in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. The big-armed quarterback slung it in his first drive and completed 8 of 11 passes for 113 yards. Look for a big dose of no-huddle from Detroit's offense this year. Stafford's connection with Marvin Jones looks in midseason form. Jones caught back-to-back big plays on the first drive, including a gorgeous toe-tapping 19-yard grab against his former team.
- The Bengals didn't show any signs of missing Jones or Mohamed Sanu. Rookie Tyler Boyd continued his studly preseason. The receiver had a spectacular diving snag on the first series and later found a soft spot in a zone defense for a touchdown. Despite the offseason hand-wringing, Cincy's offense will be just fine in 2016. It's an efficient, grinding production.
- Jeremy Hill flashed decisiveness, power and burst through the hole, battering his way for 5.3 yards per carry on three first-drive totes, which culminated in a powerful 9-yard TD rush. Hill is entering 2016 surprisingly under the radar after coming on strong down the stretch last season.
- Quarterback Brett Hundley started for the Packers, but re-injured his left ankle on the third drive. The second-year player missed time in camp with the injury. It's something to monitor for Aaron Rodgers' backup, but coach Mike McCarthy said the injury doesn't look serious. With undrafted quarterback Joe Callahan under center, we won't take much away from the receiver battle, but Davante Adams and tight end Jared Cook displayed sure hands -- a notable change for two drop-prone pass catchers.
- The Packers' first-team offensive line did yeoman's work against a solid Raiders defense on the first drive of the game: A 14-play, 74-yard grinder that culminated in an Eddie Lacy leap into the end zone. Lacy again looked spry, powerful and patient to the hole. But there were several plays he went untouched until the second level thanks to the offensive line's blocking. A clicking Packers' O-line is a gorgeous sign for Rodgers and Lacy.
- The Raiders' offense had a mediocre night -- that's being nice because it's preseason. Coach Jack Del Rio kept sending the first-team unit on the field the entire first half in an effort to coax something positive. It never came. Derek Carr's struggles were similar to those he battled down the stretch in 2015. At one point Carr hurled a forced pass to Amari Cooper that was picked off. It's the type of play that conjures the negative side of all those Brett Favre comparisons. Carr ended up with nine completions for 38 yards for an average of 2.9 yards per pass. Luckily for Carr and the Raiders, the preseason doesn't count.
- Oakland's highly regarded offensive line was good in pass blocking, but struggled to open up holes in the running game. The Raiders' offense needs better balance moving forward.
- The Carl Nassib cult is growing. The Browns' intriguing rookie defensive end began rotating with the starters. On his first drive, he immediately tipped a Matt Ryan pass. The rest of his snaps (which were plentiful) seemed like he was in the Falcons' backfield every play. Nassib finished with a strip-sack, fumble recovery and had another sack negated by penalty. Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jamie Meder offer some the Browns young, intriguing building blocks in the front seven.
- It wasn't all roses for the Browns. The backend of their defense is a mess. At this point it wouldn't even be shocking if former first-round pick Justin Gilbert ended up getting cut. Despite the optimism of some young players, this is still a defense devoid of starting playmakers. The Falcons' first-team unit moved the ball at will on the first drive and went for 234 first-half yards. It could be an ugly season for Cleveland's D.
- The Falcons continue to split first-team snaps between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. It's clear who is the better runner. Freeman went for 10.5 yards per carry (long of 19 yards) and a touchdown on four totes. Coleman had 16 yards on five carries. It's not even just the stats; it's how they run. One dashes with decisive, quick cuts, getting up field. The other often stutters and gets smothered. Freeman's talent should eventually force the Falcons to scrap a shared system.
- How you feel about Atlanta's playoff chances in 2016 likely depends on what side of the Mohamed Sanu debate you fall. Thursday he flashed for three catches on five targets, including a 32-yard catch and run on a second-and-20. It's clear he's head-and-shoulders better than the spare parts the Falcons had at No. 2 receiver last year.
-- Kevin Patra