RENTON, Wash. — Somewhere along the way, “pedestrian” became a favored word for the Seattle Seahawks’ receivers.
Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Golden Tate each used the word in some fashion after the Seahawks beat San Francisco to win the NFC championship Sunday. It was their way of responding to critics who have panned Seattle’s receiving corps as one of the weak points in the Seahawks roster.
“It irritates the hell out of me when we’ve got guys who constantly want to talk about our receiving corps,” Baldwin said after the 23-17 win over the 49ers. “Talking about we’re average. We’re pedestrian. We’re going to walk our ... to the Super Bowl. Pedestrians.”
Seattle’s receiving crew was supposed to have more experience and be considered a strength before the season began. That’s when the Seahawks were expected to have Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice as their starters, with Baldwin, Tate and Kearse filling secondary roles as extra receivers catching passes from Russell Wilson. But then Harvin missed 15 of 16 regular-season games following hip surgery in August and Rice was lost for the year after Week 8 with a knee injury.
It’s left an unheralded, underappreciated group as Seattle’s pass catching options. And while they despise being cast as a weak link, they also are more than happy to use those slights as motivation.
Perhaps no player feeds off the negativity more than Baldwin. Before the NFC title game, the undrafted free agent out of Stanford talked about carrying a “boulder” around on his shoulder, not a chip. Then he made sure to note that pundits on Sunday morning were again pointing to Seattle’s receivers as the reason Wilson and the pass game had been struggling.
“They were talking about Russell Wilson was struggling and the reason he was struggling was his receiving corps was appetizers,” Baldwin said. “I’ll take that. I’ll be an appetizer. But that’s a good ... appetizer if you ask me.”
Baldwin responded with one of the best games in his career on Sunday. He finished with six catches for 106 yards — the second-most in his three seasons — including a 51-yard reception in the first half that helped loosen the 49ers defense.
But he wasn’t alone.
Tate had four receptions and Kearse made one of the biggest catches in his young career. On fourth-and-7 early in the fourth quarter, Wilson’s hard count got the 49ers to jump into the neutral zone. Knowing it was a free play, Seattle’s receivers broke off the original routes and headed vertical to the end zone. Kearse was able to get a step on Carlos Rogers and pulled in a 35-yard TD pass from Wilson with 13:44 left that gave Seattle a 20-17 lead that the Seahawks did not relinquish.
“When you run a route you got to always expect that the ball could come to you. But when the ball is in the air it’s all instinct, it’s all play-making ability,” Kearse said. “Russ threw a good ball at me, it just shows the trust he has in us and you know we’ll just try to make the best of every opportunity.”
Then later, prodded by Baldwin, Kearse followed the line in the wide receivers room.
“I’m just a pedestrian trying to walk my way to the Super Bowl,” he said.
What makes Seattle’s group of receivers unique is the lack of credentials. Take Harvin out of the equation, and of Seattle’s top five receivers, four were undrafted: Baldwin, Kearse, Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters. Tate was the only draftee, taken in the second round in 2010. It’s another example of general manager John Schneider’s ability to unearth hidden talents, but the group also comes with a built-in motivation to prove wrong anyone who overlooked or undervalued their potential.
They also play in an offense where numbers will never be extraordinary. Only four times in 18 regular and postseason games this season did Seattle attempt 30 or more passes. Three times they didn’t even attempt 20 throws. That leaves limited opportunities when the offense calls for the tight end and running backs to be involved in the pass game as well.
And all that is without Harvin, who is expected to have recovered from a concussion in time for the Super Bowl.
“At the end of the day, we want to be a team that makes the big play when we need to,” Wilson said. “Always make the consistent ones, but make the big play when we need to, and the guys have done that all year.”