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Maybe it was the Mounties presenting the colors on Canada Day. Maybe it was the 30-degree wind-chill factor at kickoff. Maybe it was practice making almost perfect.
Whatever the reason, Saskatchewan-born, CFL-raised, Regina-educated punter Jon Ryan had a game-ball-winning performance in the Seahawks’ 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field on Sunday.
Ryan’s hands – and foot – were all over the last-second win. From holding for Olindo Mare’s game-winning field goal to having six of his season-high nine punts downed inside the 49ers’ 20-yard line.
But the also-deserves-recognition line that forms behind him is a long one from a day when the Seahawks’ special teams were just that.
There was Mare, of course, who had the game-winner from 30 yards as time expired and also a 25-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter that broke the franchise record for consecutive field goals (16, which he shared with Todd Peterson and Josh Brown). Mare also nailed a pooch punt from field-goal formation that pinned the 49ers at their 2-yard line.
There was rookie defensive end Nick Reed, who recovered a fumble on a punt return at the 49ers’ 13-yard line to setup the Seahawks’ first touchdown and also had three tackles covering kickoffs and punts.
There was wide receiver Nate Burleson, who broke a 21-yard punt return to midfield get the Seahawks rolling toward Mare’s game-winner.
There was wide receiver Ben Obomanu, who had a 33-yard kickoff return. There also was the “supporting cast,” with everyone from tight end John Carlson to rookie right guard Max Unger to rookie wide receiver Deon Butler downing punts near the 49ers’ goal line; and safeties Jordan Babineaux and Jamar Adams also making plays in limited opportunities.
Impressive stuff, from start to finish. The best effort in Bruce DeHaven’s three seasons as special teams coach?
“It was solid,” DeHaven said.
Spoken like a true coach. Why dwell on the past when it can complicate the future – which this week is the Texans in Houston on Sunday. Why draw attention to your units when you prefer to stay under the radar.
“We still have to get better on punt return,” DeHaven said of an area where the season average is a less-than-average 7.6 yards per return – the league average is 8.4, and 20 teams have a higher average than the Seahawks.
“I thought coverage-wise, we were OK. Jon punted very well. But we’ve still got to get more out of our punt return game and kickoff return game, as well.”
Back to Ryan, he has been doing this all season. His 47.1-yard average ranks fourth in the league, while his net of 39.9 is ninth. But since the Seahawks gave up net-killing returns of 82 and 23 yards to the Cowboys’ Patrick Crayton in the Week 8 loss in Dallas – when Ryan plummeted from third to 17th in net average – the longest return against them in the past five games is a 16-yarder. Sunday, the 49ers’ Arnaz Battle had minus-3 yards on five returns.
In the end, however, it was Ryan the holder – not the punter – who was the first to hug Mare after his game-winner. That would not have been the case without Burleson’s punt return and Matt Hasselbeck’s 32-yard completion to Butler.
“As soon as Deon made that catch, I knew it was up to us,” Ryan said. “That’s what you want. Absolutely. As a kicker, that’s the dream. That’s what you work all year for. So I knew Olindo was not going to miss that one.”
But without Ryan’s efforts in his other role, the chances are very good that Mare never would have been in that situation – kicking a game-winner on a day when the special teams came to play.
“We’re not where we need to be,” DeHaven said, “but we’re closer.”