By John Boyle Herald Columnist
By the time the Seattle Seahawks offense took the field for the second time Sunday afternoon, Seattle was already in a two-touchdown hole, and unless Russell Wilson and company could make something happen, Seattle’s playoff opener was in danger of spiraling out of control.
In the huddle before the drive started, Wilson reminded his offense how important it was to get something out of that possession.
“He said, ‘We’ve got to stay on the field, we can’t keep going three-and-out. Let’s take it one play at time,’” Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said.
Another three-and-out could have been disastrous with the defense thus far unable to stop Washington’s rushing attack, and points or no points, Seattle needed that drive to at least eat some clock. After Wilson was sacked on second down, the Seahawks were very much in danger of another three and out, but that’s when Miller made the first of his many huge plays in what eventually became a 24-14 Seahawks victory.
Facing third-and-12, Wilson couldn’t find a target open down field, so he dumped a short pass off to Miller. In fact, the pass was nearly too short, but Miller managed scoop it up just before it hit the ground. That impressive catch wasn’t going to get the job done by itself, however, because Miller was still six yards short of the first-down marker, so Miller turned and ran knowing how important this first down was. First he spun out of an attempted tackle by cornerback Josh Wilson, then powered through cornerback DeAngelo Hall to get exactly the 12 yards Seattle needed.
The play was one part talent and two parts sheer will, and it was symbolic of resilience the Seahawks showed in coming back from a two-touchdown deficit in a hostile environment. Pete Carroll loves to preach that it isn’t how you start, but how you finish, and in finishing that play, Miller set the tone for a big finish that at the time seemed highly unlikely.
“It shows how far we’ve come from when we were struggling on the road early in the season,” Miller said via cell phone 90 minutes after the Seahawks had finished off their first road playoff victory since 1983. “In a playoff game, with a rookie quarterback, to be able to answer a 14-point deficit the way we did, it’s just a testament to our team and the resolve we have and how much confidence we have in each other.”
That play eventually led to a field goal, and perhaps more important than those points was the fact that the drive took 5:21 off of the clock, giving the defense a much-needed breather. From that point on, the Redskins would gain only 74 yards over three quarters and not score a point. Who knows how differently things would have played out had Miller come up short on that play, allowing Washington’s offense to come right back on the field after two quick touchdown drives.
“I knew if I could get the ball and make a guy miss or break a tackle, I could get a first down,” Miller said. “I just did everything I could to get the ball then get to the first-down marker, because we needed a big play at that point.”
Boy did they need it, and that would be just one of several big plays made by one of Seattle’s most underappreciated players. In an era when NFL offenses are so pass-happy, tight ends are expected to put up big numbers in the passing game. And it’s easy to miss the impact they can have run blocking or in pass protection, two areas in which Miller has thrived since signing with Seattle.
“Zach Miller was tremendous,” Wilson said in his postgame press conference. “He came up huge tonight, once again. He does a great job catching the football, he does a great job blocking. The check down on third down where he came out in the flat, I was going through my progressions, he was my last read and he was there for me. He did a great job making that big-time catch and continuing on for a big first down. He had a tremendous game tonight.”
Miller finished with four catches for a team-high 48 receiving yards, but his impact was far bigger than those numbers. Of his four catches, three had a huge impact. After that third-down catch late in the first quarter, Miller didn’t have another catch until the fourth quarter, but he certainly made that one count. Seattle had been dominating since falling behind early, but still trailed by a point having squandered several promising drives. Marshawn Lynch had fumbled at the Redskins’ 2-yard line on one third-quarter possession, then Wilson was sacked out of field-goal range on the next. And when another drive was in danger of stalling out, Wilson again looked to Miller on third-and-long, and Miller turned that play into a 22-yard gain.
Three plays later, Miller leveled Washington linebacker Perry Riley with a block that helped spring Lynch for the 27-yard touchdown run. And Miller caught a slant from Wilson for the two-point conversion following that touchdown to give Seattle a seven-point lead.
that gave Seattle the lead for good. Miller’s last catch was a six-yard gain on fourth-and-one that helped Seattle run down the clock in the final minutes. Whether he was catching passes or doing the dirty work, Miller was one of the most important players on the field Sunday, and he showed exactly why the Seahawks paid him big money in free agency prior to the 2011 season.
“I thought Zach came through,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference. “The big play where Russell scoots out and dumps it to him on the touchdown drive was just a marvelous job of Russell doing his thing and Zach coming through again. Zach had another big one, the ball he caught about two inches off the ground, made a critical first down when we were backed up a little bit. Zach just continues to just do cool stuff and play really well.”
It shouldn’t take those catches to appreciate Miller. No matter how much his receiving number have gone down since coming here, he has played very well. But games like Sunday serve as a nice reminder of the impact he has on Seattle’s offense. Even Miller, who never complains about his lack of catches, can agree with that.
“It was definitely nice, but it was cool to also be involved in the blocking game on some of those Marshawn Lynch runs,” Miller said. “I know how important I am to the offense, but it was nice to see it in the passing game this week as well as in the blocking game on the runs and in pass protection.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org