SEATTLE — Golden Tate made the biggest play of the game on Sunday for the Seattle Seahawks.
But it wasn’t one of his usual twisting, leaping catches among two defenders. And it wasn’t one of his catch and runs where he seems to be slathered in cooking grease as he slips past arm tackles and darts out of one-arm grabs — though he did have two of those in the game.
Tate’s game-changing play was neither a catch nor a run. It was simply diving on a loose ball that he saw bouncing on the turf of CenturyLink Field away from his teammate’s grasp.
The heads up play of securing the ball and retaining possession secured a 20-13 win over the St. Louis Rams and retained some semblance of momentum for the Seahawks as they head into the playoffs next week.
“My favorite play of the day was Golden coming up with that fumble right there,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said.
With the score tied at 13 and less than 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks took over possession on their own 10-yard line in need of putting together an extended drive that would give them the lead and not allow St. Louis enough time to answer.
On second-down-and-two from the Seattle 18-yard line, Marshawn Lynch took the ball on a handoff up the middle. It had resulted for eight yards on the play before. But this time it resulted in near disaster. Lynch fumbled the ball as he was being tackled by Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The ball hit the turf and started bouncing up the field. Tate, who was blocking on the play, saw the loose ball and dove on it while a sea of players from both teams piled on top of him.
“I saw it leave Marshawn’s hands and I just did whatever I could get that ball,” Tate said.
It may have seemed instinctual, but it was a learned reaction.
“We have drills that we practice every single week about turnovers and getting on the ball,” Tate said. “It was just like a day of practice — see the ball, get on it and cover it up.”
Of course it wasn’t quite that simple with hulking men trying to rip the ball from him in a swarming pile of bodies.
“I had my hands and arms around the ball the whole time,” Tate said. “But with those big old dudes trying to pull it away from me, it was tough. I didn’t know if it was our guys pulling on it or their guys pulling on it.”
It’s not a fun place to be because there is plenty going on — not usually friendly — that isn’t seen by the referees or television cameras.
“It’s a dog pile — scratching, clawing, biting, poking,” Tate said.
But Tate wasn’t going to let go until he handed it to the referee.
“I was hanging on to that thing like it was my life,” he said.
When Seattle was finally deemed to have possession of the ball, it was enough for a first down. Three plays later, facing third-down-and-five, quarterback Russell Wilson was flushed from the pocket. As he does, Wilson stayed alive on the play, dodging two rushers. Tate saw Wilson in scramble mode and headed up field from his comeback route.
“Golden did a great job of extending the play,” Wilson said.
Wilson lofted a perfect pass to Tate, who made the catch and then broke two tackles before being dragged down for a 44-yard gain.
“We know at any moment he can run and throw on the run,” said Tate, who had three catches for a game-high 105 yards. “I think some of their guys thought he was going to run. I turned up field and he made a perfect throw where no one could get it but me.”
Five plays later, Wilson’s scrambled into the end zone for a one-yard game-winning touchdown.
None of which would have happened if Tate hadn’t recovered the fumble early in the drive.
“For him to get in there and fight for the ball the way he did and pick up that fumble was huge for our team,” Wilson said. “That allowed us to continue the drive and continue our opportunity to win the game.”