Extra special

Posted Jan 28, 2010

Nominees for special teams play of the decade include another big play by Babineaux, a denied two-point PAT after time expired, a long field goal and an even longer punt return.

One play is forever etched in postseason infamy. One play was overshadowed by a play that did not occur. Two plays came against the same opponent, in the same season.

But each was extra special.

In an attempt to select the best special teams play from the past decade – the most successful 10-year stretch in franchise history – has come up with four nominees. But which was the most special? That decision is up to you.

The special teams units are the most fluid on any team because their core is comprised of the players on the outer edges of the 53-man roster. The Seahawks were no different in the 2000s, and it started at the top. The Seahawks had four special teams coaches during the decade – Pete Rodriguez (2000-03), Mark Michaels (2004), Bob Casullo (2005-06) and Bruce DeHaven (2007-09).

They also had five kickers – Kris Heppner, Rian Lindell, Josh Brown, Olindo Mare and Brandon Coutu, who was on the 53-man roster in 2008 but never attempted a field goal or PAT in a regular-season game; five punters – Jeff Feagles, Tom Rouen, Donnie Jones, Ryan Plackemeier and Jon Ryan; and nine players led the club or shared the lead in coverage tackles – Niko Koutouvides (three times), Isaiah Kacyvenski (twice), Terreal Bierria, Alex Bannister, Josh Scobey, Kevin Bentley, Jordan Babineaux, C.J. Wallace and Lance Laury.

In chronological order, here are those extra-special special teams plays:

Linebacker Chad Brown and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard stopping running back Warrick Dunn short of the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt after time had expired in a 28-26 win over the Falcons in the 2004 season finale.

Don’t quite recall this pivotal play? The victory gave the Seahawks the NFC West title – the first of what would be four in a row – and a wild-card playoff game against the Rams at Qwest six days later.

The Falcons scored as time expired on a 3-yard pass from backup QB Matt Schaub to former Seahawks wide receiver Brian Finneran. That gave the Jim Mora-coached Falcons one play for the tie, and it was not surprising that Mora opted for a run because Atlanta had led the league in rushing and churned out 204 rushing yards in the game.

Atlanta had run the same play to Dunn earlier in the game, and Bernard said the Falcons linemen tipped what was coming by the way they were looking down the line before the snap and the way they slid their blocking scheme at the snap.

“We were in our nickel defense, so I just didn’t want to give up the inside,” Bernard explained after the game. “As long as we could hold him up and make him dance for a little bit and get everybody to the ball, that was the key.

“We just tried to get him down and get out of here with a win.”

Dunn already had run for 132 yards on 25 carries, but be couldn’t get one more that would have tied the score.

“We’d run the play earlier in the game, and we figured they were going to stop us from spreading to the outside,” Dunn said. “When we ran the two-point conversion, the guys overplayed to the outside, and I really couldn’t bounce out. I tried to hit it back in and find a crease, but they played it well.

“It was tough. I was just trying to squeeze my way into a little bitty cranny.”

Instead, Dunn was squeezed by Bernard from below and Brown from above.

“It was just one of those things where you hold your breath,” cornerback Marcus Trufant said. “Everything seemed like it was in slow motion. But they didn’t get in, and that’s what matters.”

Brown’s 54-yard field goal as time expired in a 30-28 victory over the Rams in St. Louis in 2006.

Brown could have his own category in this decade recap, or at least dominate this one – as Shaun Alexander did with the nominees for offensive play of the decade.

In ’06 alone, Brown kicked four game-winners to tie the NFL record. They came against the Lions in the opener, when he supplied all the points in a 9-6 victory; the Rams, twice; and the Broncos. He kicked four field goals in a game four times and scored 15 points in a 2007 game against – you guessed it – the Rams. He also is the only player in franchise history to score 100-plus points in five consecutive seasons (2003-2007).

Unable to beat him, the Rams found a way to entice Brown to join them in 2008.  But not until after he had repeatedly kicked them where it hurts most – the loss column. That was the case in the ’06 game at the Edward Jones Dome.

Brown was anticipating the game-winner being a 49-yard attempt, but a 5-yard penalty for an illegal formation with four seconds to play moved it to a 54-yarder.

“It’s not a chipper. It’s not a gimme,” Brown said after the game. “A 54-yarder is a 50-50 shot. That’s what makes it special. We beat the Rams. They’re a big monkey for us that sometimes jumps on our back. So it was good to be able to knock them off again.”

Brown also had a pair of 49-yarders in the fourth quarter, as the Seahawks rallied for 16 points. Later that season, he kicked a 38-yarder to beat the Rams at Qwest Field.

But as valuable as he was as a kicker, Brown had another memorable play in 2007, when he tackled – yes, tackled – Bears Pro Bowl kickoff returner Devin Hester at Qwest Field.

It wasn’t one of those kicker-pushes-returner-out-of-bounds-along-the-sideline “tackles.” This was Brown going into Hester, despite the Bears’ returner getting his hand in Brown’s facemask, to drop him at the end of a 27-yard return.

Brown leaped to his feet and flexed. The already raucous crowd at Qwest came unglued.

“It was Devin Hester, are you kidding me?” Brown said after the game. “It was just cool.”

Nate Burleson’s 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 24-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Qwest Field in 2006.

Burleson’s “homecoming” season with the Seahawks hadn’t gone as anyone expected. The wide receiver from O’Dea High School had an injured thumb and finished his first season back in Seattle with 18 receptions.

But two weeks earlier, Burleson volunteered for punt and kickoff return duty, just hoping to get his hands on the ball and make a play to help the Seahawks. Check and check on this day against the Seahawks’ old nemesis from the NFC West.

With the Seahawks trailing 16-14, Burleson fielded a punt that most returners would decide to fair catch. Burleson juked Kay-Jay Harris after catching the ball and roared up the sideline for a touchdown that made it 21-16 with eight minutes, 19 seconds remaining.

“I was shocked,” cornerback Kelly Herndon said after the game. “I can’t believe the guy caught the ball. It looked like a fair-catch-type situation.”

Not to Burleson. “I really don’t like fair catching anyway,” he said. “I figure you’re going to get hit anyway, so you might as well catch it and try to run with it.”

And run Burleson did, for the second-longest punt return in franchise history.

Not bad for a midseason fill-in – and a volunteer fill-in, at that.

“He said, ‘Anything you want me to do, I’ll do,” coach Mike Holmgren said of the conversation he had with Burleson after the team had traded for wide receiver Deion Branch. “To get him on the field a little bit, we made the change a couple of weeks ago to let him return punts.

“Thank goodness we did. It was beautiful.”

Jordan Babineaux tripping up Tony Romo short of the goal line, and a first down, after the Cowboys’ quarterback had dropped the snap on what would have been a game-winning field goal in the Seahawks’ 21-20 wild-card playoff victory in 2006.

As the Cowboys lined up for a 19-yard field goal attempt by Martin Gramatica with 74 seconds to play, quicker than you could say, “Cowboys take the` lead,” Romo could not handle the snap.

That’s when he took off to his left, and it appeared Romo would score or, at the very least, get to the Seahawks’ 1-yard line to pick up the first down.

That’s also when Babineaux came off the opposite edge to give chase. Babineaux dropped Romo at the 2, and the Seahawks escaped with a wild win.

“I had no choice,” Babineaux said. “It was either catch him, or go home.”

Before Romo headed for home, he was tears in the Cowboys’ locker room and offered, “I just didn’t catch the ball and I didn’t get it down. I just didn’t get it down. It obviously cost us the game.”

But will yet another heady effort by the man his teammates call “Big Play Babs” cost the other three nominees their chance at becoming the special teams play of the decade?