Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (right) and Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore battle for position during the second half of a game Sept. 20, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (right) and Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore battle for position during the second half of a game Sept. 20, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Seahawks’ Metcalf wins battle against one of NFL’s best

The rising Seattle wide receiver went toe-to-toe with the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore on Sunday night.

By Gregg Bell / The News Tribune

Less than two years ago, a doctor was telling DK Metcalf his football career was over.

Now he’s not just among, but beating the NFL’s best.

On Oct. 13, 2018, Metcalf suffered a cervical fracture on a kickoff return playing for his hometown University of Mississippi in a game at Arkansas. In the hours and days after the injury ended his college career, Metcalf, then 20, was told his NFL career was over, too — before it ever started.

He cried.

“Heartbreaking,” he said.

Sunday night, he entered the realm of the becoming one of the league’s best.

By beating the best.

There are very few man-on-man, best-on-best showdowns anymore in specialized, sub-packaged pro football. Metcalf banging into, barking at and sometimes blowing by New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year, throughout Seattle’s home opener was a battle royale worth savoring and preserving.

“I thought DK was unbelievable,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said after his team’s 35-30 win.

It put Seattle at 2-0 entering this weekend’s home test against Dallas (1-1).

It was a woof-a-thon.

Metcalf thoroughly enjoyed every one of his four catches, every one of his 92 receiving yards — and especially his 54-yard touchdown pass from Wilson that tied the wild game at 14 in the second quarter.

Wilson saw Gilmore lined up again in man coverage in the slot to the right side. Metcalf ran with the league’s best cornerback deep down the field, made an inside move on a left diagonal as if on a post route, then cut sharply outside instead to the right on a flag pattern. Wilson boldly sent a soaring ball that dared Metcalf to run under it, and Gilmore to cover it. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Metcalf gave Gilmore a beastly lean as Wilson’s perfectly placed ball arrived. Gilmore fell off Metcalf as water does a cliff. Metcalf just about walked in for a startling touchdown.

“It was maybe as perfect as the one they hit last week,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, referring to Wilson connecting with Metcalf for a 38-yard score on fourth down in the Seahawks’ opening win at Atlanta.

According to the NFL Next Gen stats service, it was the first time in two years Gilmore allowed a touchdown as the nearest, primarily defender to a receiver.

Gilmore credited Wilson, not Metcalf.

“It happens,” Gilmore said. “I think I was in good position.

“Russell Wilson threw a good ball. … I kept my leverage but he threw a good ball where I couldn’t get it, so hats off to him.”

Metcalf punctuated his latest remarkable, physical feat with a smooth one: a throw-back, pantomimed finger roll of the ball in the end zone. It would have made NBA legend George Gervin proud.

It also was a three-hour WWE wresting match.

More than once, Metcalf and Gilmore went after each other well after a play ended. They rammed into each other when some plays were 40 yards away, on the field’s opposite side.

“It was a good opportunity for me,” Metcalf said. “He made the matchup difficult, in my opinion.

“A great defender. My hat’s off to him.”

That’s a lot of hats between two guys who would have been more appropriate wearing body armor Sunday night.

Once, on a running play, Metcalf blocked Gilmore into the sideline boundary, past the first, second and third line of Seahawks players watching from behind the sideline and into the metal benches that are about 10 yards off the field. Seahawks players and coaches scattered, hollered, massed then finally intervened.

Carroll was on the periphery of the scrum, at least giving the appearance he was trying to break up the fray. Gilmore then went back at Metcalf. Metcalf grabbed and tugged on Gilmore’s facemask amid all the people trying to separate them.

Somehow, no one got penalized for that melee long after the play ended well up the field from them.

“I felt like he was blocking me after the whistle,” Gilmore said. “Just trying to keep my poise. Playing very physical between the lines, and sometimes that’s what goes on.”

Asked about that incident, Metcalf said: “Like I said, it was just a physical game and we were just going at it like two football players.”

Carroll said he admired how professionally and respectfully Metcalf handled the challenge of facing Gilmore. The coach said Metcalf got up to the line of appropriate emotion, and that he was yelling at his young receiver not to cross it, and that Metcalf never did.

“They were battling right from the get-go, almost duking it out right off the bat,” Carroll said.

“I thought DK really competed.”

Metcalf called it the most physical test he’s had in his 20 NFL games played so far.

“Yes, sir. That was probably the most physical I’ve been with any DB in my whole career,” he said.

“Not just (Gilmore), but the McCourty twins, J.C. Jackson (also in the Patriots’ secondary), they all brought it.”

Metcalf did, too. Again.

Through two games he has eight catches on 14 targets with 187 yards receiving and two touchdowns. That’s a 16-game pace of 64 receptions, 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’d be in the Pro Bowl for sure in year two with those numbers. The touchdowns would be at All-Pro level.

He’s become indispensable to Seattle’s offense. His coaches won’t take him off the field. He played all 63 snaps against New England. His been off the field for only one play in Seattle’s two games, 124 of 125 snaps.

Yes, it’s early. Two games don’t make anyone an All-Pro, especially not a 22-year old. But Metcalf’s hype train hasn’t slowed down since the day the Seahawks drafted him 17 months ago.

He hasn’t given it any reason to.

“Since the moment DK got here he’s always been passionate about the game,” Wilson said.

“Always been the aggressor and owning his space as a player. … He wants the opportunity. He wants to be great.

“He wants to be the best in the world at what he does.”

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