The more important storyline is this: Penny is finally forcing his way onto the field after spending his first season and a half buried behind Chris Carson. It appears he's shortening what seemed like a massive gap between the team’s top two running backs.
On the same day that Carson had his least productive rushing performance of the season -- including another fumble -- Penny had the most productive game of his career. He ripped off a 58-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to help seal a win over the Philadelphia Eagles and finished with 129 yards on 14 carries, both career highs.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Penny joins Kansas City's Damien Williams as the only players this season to rush for 125-plus yards on 15 or fewer attempts.
It was almost an out-of-nowhere performance. After all, Penny carried only 36 times in seven previous games this season. That includes four carries in Week 9 against Tampa Bay and two carries in Seattle's last game against the 49ers, when he lost a fumble on one of his three offensive snaps. He entered Sunday with only 85 snaps this season, per Pro Football Reference.
"Frustrated" was how Pete Carroll described Penny's reaction to his limited role. "But he has practiced marvelously. The last three weeks have been his best three weeks of practice. We really wanted him to play (Sunday) and get him in there and see what would happen because he's looked so good in practice. So I thought [running backs coach] Chad Morton did a really good job of rotating him and looking for his opportunity with the intent of getting a shot out there. He came through beautifully. It was a really sweet game for him."
Carson's continued inability to hold onto the ball likely had something to do with Seattle getting Penny more involved. Carson fumbled twice against the Bucs and once versus the 49ers. His fumble Sunday was his seventh of the season (the botched handoff with Russell Wilson was officially attributed to Wilson). He finished with 57 yards on 12 touches.
Penny was already playing more than he had this season by the time Carson fumbled in the fourth quarter Sunday. That was one possession after Penny took a shotgun handoff, knifed his way past the second level, then shed cornerback Ronald Darby on his way to the end zone. It was the Seahawks' longest touchdown run over the last three seasons.
"They all want to play, they all deserve to play," Carroll said. "It's just sometimes it just doesn't happen and it's how you deal with it. What he did is he got better. He's trimmer, he's faster. Look how fast he looked today. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon. And that's because of the hard work. He got a little bit of fresh-legs benefit and he took full advantage of it."
Carroll was referring to the weight Penny lost in the offseason. Penny admitted to not taking his first NFL offseason seriously enough, which resulted in him playing at around 238 pounds as a rookie. He said he currently weighs 230 pounds and hopes to get down to 225. He dropped that weight with the help of a nutritionist he hired in the spring.
"I'm doing way better than what I've done in the past," he said. "I've stopped eating McDonald's. That was hard for me. But then I just started getting more serious about football. Having great body weight and great body shape takes you a long way as a running back. I'm learning that from Chris."
His mother's burgers and lasagna are also off the menu.
"Every time I go back home she just chops up grilled chicken and gives me salad," Penny said. "Everyone else eats Little Caesars."
Penny made mention of the support Carson has given him in the form of reminders to stay patient as he waits for his chances.
"Most people think that as competitors we"re supposed to hate each other," he said. "I actually love that dude and he can probably say the same thing about me. It's just all about playing off each other. It's tough for me because he has the hot hand and he's doing everything great and I'm just sitting back, but I'm also learning. I think it would suck for me because I'm a first-round pick and everybody is expecting all these big things, and I'm still young and I'm still fresh. I've got a lot of carries I can handle for whenever the time is needed."