SEATTLE — Wide receiver Doug Baldwin went to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks last summer hoping to hang around for at least a full NFL season.
On Monday night, Baldwin continued to play his way into the team’s future.
Baldwin, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Stanford University, was a Seahawks hero on offense and on special teams in a 30-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Baldwin — he is one of Seattle’s smallest players — blocked a punt that was returned by teammate Michael Robinson for Seattle’s first touchdown, then caught a 29-yard pass from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson for the team’s second TD.
Baldwin also had a long return on the opening kickoff and downed a punt at the Rams 6-yard line minutes later.
“What a great night for the kid,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “He just continues to answer the call. You give him chances, you give him opportunities and he does stuff.
“Every chance you give him he does something,” Carroll added. “He’s just such a battler. He’s a great competitor and he’s got a chip on his shoulder that just drives him to be a tough guy and a playmaker. … He’s a terrific competitor and we’re just thrilled about it.”
Baldwin’s blocked punt following St. Louis’ first possession was an early emotional spark for the Seahawks, not to mention an important seven points on the scoreboard.
After lining up on the right side of Seattle’s line, Baldwin came through virtually untouched — a Rams blocker appeared to give him a light shove in passing — to smother the kick the moment it left the foot of Rams punter Donnie Jones. The ball bounced backward and was snagged on a bounce by Robinson at the 17-yard line for an easy runback to the end zone.
“It was an amazing feeling at the time,” Baldwin said. “To be honest with you, I was worried all week about getting kicked somewhere where it would hurt. I’ve never been in that situation before. But our special teams coach told me that if I had an opportunity to make a play, don’t flinch. Go in 100 percent and make the play.”
Baldwin was also the “gunner” — the wide receiver assigned to sprint downfield on initial punt coverage — on a Seahawks punt minutes before, and he was in position to catch the ball at the Rams 6 after St. Louis return man Austin Pettis called for a fair catch and then stepped aside to let the kick bounce.
That coverage backed the Rams up near their own goal line and led to the blocked punt moments later.
Earlier, Baldwin had a 37-yard return on the opening kickoff after taking a lateral from teammate Leon Washington on a left-to-right reverse. Baldwin took the pitch from Washington at the 6-yard line and returned to the 43 before being pushed out of bounds.
His touchdown catch came in the late seconds of the third quarter. On a first-and-10 play from the St. Louis 29, Baldwin ran an out route that completely turned around Rams defensive back Darian Stewart. Baldwin made the catch near the 10 and eluded one last defender as he raced to the end zone.
In addition to his special teams contributions, Baldwin finished with seven receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s a good day for him,” Jackson said. “And we expect that out of him now. He’s a dependable guy and we expect him to go out and make plays for us every week.”
Baldwin raised his season totals to 45 catches for 718 yards and three TDs. He leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, and is tied with Golden Tate for the team lead in receiving TDs.
To have a season like Baldwin’s would be special even for a high draft pick. To achieve all he has as a guy who was passed over in last spring’s NFL draft is truly remarkable.
Still, Baldwin said, “I expected to be successful (this season). I didn’t know how successful, but I expected to come in here and win a job in some capacity. If you don’t have that confidence in yourself, you’re not going to win a job.
“But to be where I am now, no, I didn’t expect this,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m still not satisfied.”