SEATTLE — For all the talk about Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin being out with injuries, you would think the wide receiver corps would be a weak link in the Seattle Seahawks offense.
But the young guys stepped up and put forth a terrific performance in Seattle’s 27-24 overtime victory over Tampa Bay in an NFL game Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Between them, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, and Ricardo Lockette have only 12 years of NFL experience.
But they combined for 16 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns for the Seahawks, who improved to 8-1 and dropped the Buccaneers to 0-8.
Kearse scored Seattle’s first touchdown, and Baldwin caught the touchdown pass that sent the game into overtime.
The only black mark against the wide receivers occurred when Kearse fumbled a kickoff return in the second quarter. That set up Tampa Bay’s third touchdown, which made it 21-0.
But just 36 seconds later, Kearse caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to start the biggest comeback in Seahawks history.
“It was pretty big to get us some momentum going into the half, and it was big for me, period,” Kearse said. “I lost that fumble on the kickoff return, and it tested me mentally to come back and bounce back, and I felt like I came back strong and made a play.”
Baldwin led all players with six catches for 75 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception with 1:51 left that tied the score at 24.
He also had a spectacular sideline catch for a 19-yard gain on third down late in the third quarter. On the next play, Wilson ran 10 yards for Seattle’s second touchdown.
“He made a big-time catch,” Wilson said of Baldwin’s toe dragging catch at the 10-yard line. “That was a big momentum getter for us and kind of gave us a little hope.”
Baldwin said that the key to the comeback was not getting caught up in the comeback, if that makes any sense.
“To play this game at the highest level, you have to be that way,” he said. “In order to be successful, in order to be good, you have to eliminate all the outside distractions, and that means the scoreboard.
“You have to eliminate all that stuff and focus on what you can control and worry about the task at hand,” Baldwin said. “In the second half we were able to do that.”
Tate’s contributions on offense were relatively modest as he had three catches for 29 yards.
But he had an electrifying 71-yard punt return late in the third quarter that set up the field goal that made it 24-17.
He fielded the ball at the 4-yard line, burst up the middle, broke several tackles and eventually worked his way down the right sideline to the Tampa Bay 25.
At least seven Buccaneers got a hand on Tate before he was herded out of bounds, and two of them got in pretty solid hits.
“I loved Golden’s explosive punt return. That just kind of let you know that we’re here, that we’re coming for this win,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “It was an incredible play.”
“I don’t want to sound cocky or arrogant, but when this team needs a play to be made I want the ball in my hands one way or another,” Tate said. “I was battling all day against (cornerback Darrelle) Revis and wasn’t getting much action (on offense), so I had to make a play somewhere else.”
He was asked about the decision to attempt a return from the 4 when conventional wisdom suggests he should have let it bounce into the end zone.
“We were down. We needed something to happen,” Tate said. “It was a punt where I thought I would have some room and I did. Although I caught it on the 4 I was going to have a solid 15 yards to run so at worst I was going to get it to the 20.
“I tried to make a play,” he said. “I wasn’t doing too much on offense, so I needed to make a play and that’s what happened, some momentum.”
It was one of several key plays from a group of guys that might have been cause for concern coming into the game. Or at least it seemed that way in the media.
“We’ve got great players all through this team,” Kearse said. “A lot of people see the starters, and our starters are great.
“But we also have a lot of depth, I believe, and when someone goes down it’s the next man up. We expect him to play well just as if he was a starter.”
For one day, at least, they did.