SEATTLE — The first two times Jermaine Kearse touched the ball on Sunday, it bounced off his hands and into the arms of a Green Bay defensive back for an interception.
The third time he touched it, all that was forgiven.
“It was a very interesting game for me,” Kearse said, drawing a laugh in his post-game interview. “I mean, I think there were, like, four interceptions that happened when the ball was thrown my way, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’”
Indeed, all four of quarterback Russell Wilson’s career-high four interceptions were intended for Kearse. Two of them were poor throws by Wilson. The other two clanged off of Kearse’s hands.
At the end of regulation Kearse had zero receptions on five balls thrown his way.
Had the Seahawks lost, the devastating futility of the Wilson-Kearse connection would have been a hot topic for days, maybe weeks or months.
But Wilson went to Kearse one more time in overtime, and Kearse hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass for the winning points in a 28-22 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s a tough game,” Kearse said when asked about his emotional roller-coaster ride. “You’ve got to be mentally tough. You’ve got to learn how to push through those types of moments.
“It’s just making plays when the opportunity presents itself,” he said. “Russell just kept giving me chances, and I made one.”
After a frantic comeback at the end of regulation, the Seahawks won the coin toss for overtime and elected to receive the kickoff.
Four plays later, they had third-and-7 from their own 30-yard line.
Wilson hit wide receiver Doug Baldwin for a 35-yard gain on a deep corner route to keep the drive alive.
On the next play, from the Green Bay 35, the Seahawks came to the line of scrimmage to find the Packers in man coverage with no deep safety.
Wilson and Kearse both started drooling at the thought of Kearse going one-on-one with cornerback Tramon Williams from the right slot with no safety help, and Wilson changed to a play that would send Kearse on a post route.
“We saw that it was cover zero, so everybody was lined up at linebacker depth, and I knew it was just me and Tramon,” Kearse said. “I’m still trying to gather myself.
“I knew it was going to be one-on-one with no one in the middle, and I just got off the ball and just tried to make a play.”
“They had brought everybody up in the box, cover zero,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to give Jermaine Kearse a chance to go win the game, and he always finds a way to do that somehow.
“I threw the ball out there for him and audibled the play, checked the play, and, sure enough, we were able to hit Jermaine Kearse for the touchdown to go to Super Bowl XLIX.”
Wilson said he still had absolute faith in Kearse at that point despite the earlier troubles.
“I just kept talking to him. ‘Hey, man, I’m going to keep coming to you. Be ready. We’re going to win this game. You’re going to win the game for us,’” Wilson said.
“When we had the kickoff in overtime, I knew I was going to throw a touchdown to Jermaine,” Wilson said. “That’s what I told (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell.”
Kearse also had the touchdown reception that put Seattle ahead to stay in last year’s NFC Championship Game against San Francisco. And last week he had a team playoff record 63-yard touchdown catch against Carolina.
In seven career playoff games, Kearse has four touchdown receptions.
All this from a local product — Lakes High School in Tacoma and the University of Washington — who came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
“He was very emotional after the game because he knew he was in the midst of a lot of things that didn’t go right for us today,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “What a great story, you know, local kid and all of that, wins the game with that touchdown catch.
“He was totally emotional about it because he felt like he had not been able to come through in some other situations,” Carroll said.
“But that is exactly the Jermaine Kearse that I was talking about,” Carroll said. “He just finds a way to do stuff for us, another touchdown in a playoff game in a critical situation, and wins the game.
“It was just extraordinary.”
Kearse was surprisingly subdued after the game, perhaps more reflective than celebratory.
“I’m thankful for my teammates who continually stuck by my side when things were down,” he said. “Everything is not going to be perfect. Life is not going to be perfect. There’s always going to be downs.”
“I never really felt sorry for myself,” Kearse said. “I knew you’ve just got to be mentally tough.”
Altogether, Kearse was an excellent metaphor Sunday for the entire team.
“I always knew that we could push through adversity,” he said. “That’s what I learned about our team.
“They just kept fighting. There’s no stopping. Just kept playing.”