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Seahawks’ trio goes from who are these guys to look at them now

Posted Jan 20, 2014

Monday metatarsal musings: Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson made huge plays to help the Seahawks win the NFC Championship, despite perceptions that suggested they’d never be able to do it.

Doug Baldwin caught a 51-yard pass to set up one field goal and returned a kickoff 69 yards to set up another. Richard Sherman deflected a pass in the end zone that was intercepted by Malcolm Smith with 22 seconds left. Russell Wilson fired a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse, on a fourth-and-7 play, to give the Seahawks their first lead in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the 49ers at CenturyLink Field.

In addition to making game-altering plays in the biggest game of their young NFL careers, these three also have something else in common. None of them should have been on the field, not if you had listened to the pre-draft reports on each as they were preparing to enter the league.

But after the 23-17 victory that launched the Seahawks into a Feb. 2 matchup with the AFC Champion Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, it was obvious the Seahawks would not have won the game – or even been in the game – without Baldwin, who was not even drafted in 2011 and signed with the Seahawks as a rookie free agent; Sherman, who was a steal of a fifth-round pick that same year; and Wilson, the “too short” quarterback who was available in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

“I guess it’s a good story,” Baldwin said when it was his turn at the podium after Sunday’s game, and when asked about reflecting on how far he has come. “But at the same time, I’m focused on what’s next. I’ll sit back and relax and review all that stuff when I retire from the game of football.

“Right now, I’m focused on what’s next.”

Baldwin also was asked what the moment meant to Sherman, also his teammate at Stanford University and a fellow member of the Seahawks’ legion of players who proudly flaunt the chips on their shoulders.

“I can’t speak for Sherm, but I know how passionate he is about the game of football,” said Baldwin, who finished with six catches for 106 yards – the second 100-yard receiving game of his three-season career and first since Week 5 of his rookie season.

“He said to me before the game, ‘It’s going to come down to us making big plays. Somehow, we have to find a way to make big plays.’ Sherm’s been doing it all season. He’s arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. They were trying to stay away from him all game, and I kept saying eventually they’re going to have to go his way. Eventually they did, and they made a mistake.”

Just like the mistakes other teams made in not taking “chances” on Baldwin, and Sherman, and Wilson.

“I haven’t had a chance, but I think I’ll have a chance to think about it tonight,” Sherman, who has become a two-time All-Pro cornerback, said when asked about how far he has come. “Just watch some tape and enjoy the moment. Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with this unbelievable team that we have, the kind of players who fight play-in and play-out and fight the whole game and give you a chance.”

And as Wilson will remind us several times between now and the Seahawks’ next game – their last game in this magical season – this is just the latest championship opportunity. It’s that mindset that has allowed the Seahawks to win 15 of their 18 games, and advance to the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

But Sunday, he was the poster player for the attitude that Sherman was talking about.

On the first play of the game, Aldon Smith forced Wilson to fumble and the 49ers’ linebacker recovered at the Seahawks’ 15-yard line. Four plays later, Phil Dawson kicked a field goal and quicker than you could mutter “What just happened?” the Seahawks were down.

“Russell Wilson could have easily folded it up and gave up after the play,” Sherman said. “He’s such a resilient, heady football player, there’s no chance. He’s a dogged-minded football player. Our team is filled with them, and I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”

Wilson was asked what was going through his mind after taking a knee to run out the clock following Sherman’s tip that Smith intercepted with 22 second to play.

“To be honest with you, the thing I thought about the last snap was, ‘Man, I could have been playing baseball right now,’ ” said Wilson, who has been selected in the Major League Baseball draft twice. “The other thing I thought about was, is just all the people that told me I couldn’t do it and told me I couldn’t get there.

“It’s one of those things that you just believe in yourself, you believe in what God has given you.”

With that said, here are three other things that worked against the 49ers and three things that need work as the Seahawks prepare for their Super Bowl matchup against the Broncos:

What worked

Feeding the Beast – Marshawn Lynch was coming off a franchise playoff-record 140-yard rushing performance on 28 carries against the New Orleans Saints in their divisional playoff game. Then, he became the first player this season to crack the 100-yard barrier against the 49ers. The highlight of his 22-carry, 109-yard effort was a 40-yard run for the Seahawks’ first touchdown, when Lynch displayed an overlooked aspect of his ram-and-slam game by outrunning four defenders to the end zone.

“I think people underestimate his speed,” Wilson said. “You noticed how fast he was down the sideline and getting into the end zone.”

The 49ers won’t underestimate Lynch. The last player to run for 100 on them? It was Lynch last December, when he had 111 yards on 26 carries in Week 16 at CenturyLink Field.

L.O.B. – That’s Legion of Boom, and that’s the Seahawks’ secondary, for those who have not been paying attention. While Colin Kaepernick hurt the Seahawks running in the first half (98 yards), the 49ers’ QB hurt his team’s comeback hopes as a passer in the fourth quarter as he turned the ball over on the final three possessions.

All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor intercepted a pass that was intended for Anquan Boldin, setting up Steven Hauschka’s third field goal – a 47-yarder that made it 23-17 with 3½ minutes to play. Then there was Sherman’s tip of the end zone pass intended for Michael Crabtree that Smith intercepted. Before the back-to-back picks, rush-end Cliff Avril slapped the ball from Kaepernick’s hand and defensive tackle Michael Bennett recovered.

Chancellor finished with 11 tackles, while All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas had six and also got a hand on the 26-yard TD pass that Kaepernick threw to Boldin. Cornerback Byron Maxwell broke up two passes and Sherman made his end-zone play – on only the second pass thrown his way all day.

The 12th Man – The Seahawks’ rambunctious fans sent the team off in style in final game at CenturyLink Field this season. First, they turned out in record numbers – 68,454. Then, they stuck with the team even when things weren’t going so well in the first half. Finally, they rocked the house as the Seahawks outscored the 49ers 20-7 in the second half.

After giving the 49ers credit for their effort, the next thing coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame news conference was, “The other thing I want to mention too is this extraordinary relationship we have with our fans. The 12’s are just – it’s woven into the fabric of what the Seahawks are all about. I love the fact that we have this opportunity to go play in the Super Bowl and represent all of the Northwest and all our fans everywhere, because they just deserve it. They freaking deserve it. They’re the best.”

What needs work

Staying power – The Seahawks are deeper into the postseason than any of the players on the current 53-man roster have ever been before. They’re also are looking at two weeks between games for the second time this month.

But staying focused has been one of this team’s strength all seasons.

Pass defense – As former coach Chuck Knox always said, “Pass defense is rush plus coverage.” The Seahawks have done both well this season, but they have yet to face a quarterback who can throw as many things at them as the Broncos’ Peyton Manning.

The defensive backs will need to plaster their receivers from snap to whistle, while the pass-rushers must find ways to disrupt Manning’s timing.

Starting faster – On the opening series of the their past six games, the Seahawks have kicked one field goal, punted four times and lost a fumble. In the first quarters of their past six games, they have scored a combined 13 points.

They’ll need more from the start against the prolific Manning and the Broncos’ high-scoring offense.