When a spark was needed, Golden Tate exploded

Posted Nov 4, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: After falling behind 21-0 to the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Seahawks needed some kind of spark. And Golden Tate delivered some kind of punt return to provide it.

As he was waiting at the 4-yard line, gazing into the sky above CenturyLink Field, Golden Tate the punt returner became Golden Tate the baseball player.

That’s as good a place as any to start in dissecting Tate’s 71-yard return that provided a spark the Seahawks desperately needed during what turned out to be a 27-24 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

The score was 24-14 with roughly 60 seconds remaining in the third quarter, as the Seahawks had managed to start chipping away at the 21-0 lead the Bucs built during the second quarter. That’s when Tate displayed his Golden touch with the ball in his hands.

“First and foremost, I’m thinking, ‘Catch this ball. Make sure this is the right decision,’ ” Tate explained in the locker room when asked what was going through his mind with the ball sailing toward him.

“Playing baseball helped me out a lot. I feel like I can afford to look up, look down a couple of times and see where the gunners are, the position they have.”

And that look-and-see vantage is a definite advantage as a punt returner. Tate was a good enough baseball player at Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., that the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in 2007. Instead, he opted to play baseball and football at Notre Dame, and was drafted again in 2010 by the San Francisco Giants.

But once the ball was in his hands, Tate became the elusive and slippery open-field runner he has been since the Seahawks selected him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Bucs’ Adam Hayward missed Tate at the 12. Jeremy Lane gave him a block at the 20. Keith Tandy couldn’t get Tate at the 27. Dekoda Watson went high but whiffed at the 37. Tate momentarily disappeared into a cluster of eight players at the 40, but squirted into the open. Tate stiff-armed Michael Adams at the 47. Punter Michael Koenen swung and missed at the Buccaneers’ 42. Russell Shepard finally pushed Tate out of bounds at the Tampa 25.

But the damage was done. Tate’s return set up a 36-yard field goal by Steve Hauschka on the second play of the fourth quarter, making it 24-17.  That got the Seahawks close enough that they tied it on Russell Wilson’s 10-yard touchdown passes to Doug Baldwin with less than two minutes left in regulation. And that sent the game into overtime, where Hauschka’s 27-yarder won it.

All of that takes us back to Tate standing on the 4-yard line and deciding to go for the return, rather than letting the ball bounce and likely go into the end zone for a touchback.

“It comes from just the want,” Tate said. “I wanted to make a play so bad. I wanted to make a play so bad, and I just found a way. I trust in the guys blocking up front so much and I watch how they practice every single day. I’ve earned the trust of coach (Pete) Carroll and coach (Brian) Schneider (the special teams coordinator).

“It just came down to we needed a play to be made. I wanted to be that guy to make the play, but be smart. And it ended up happening.”

Should it have happened? Fielding the punt at the 4; not what followed.

“I loved Golden’s explosive punt return, that just kind of let you know that we’re here, that we’re coming for this win,” is the way Carroll put it in labeled the return “an incredible play.”

When asked about where the return began, Carroll offered, “I trust him. I know that in saying that, there’s going to be some times when you’re going to second-guess, and why did he return it from 2 yards deep or whatever it is. But he’s a great football player. And you need to give him a chance to make plays. And he does, and he will. If he makes a mistake back there trying to do something great, I’m OK with that. It’s a risk-reward, and look what he did.”

With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked against the Bucs and three things that need work as the Seahawks prepare this week for Sunday’s game against the Falcons in Atlanta:

What worked

Feeding the Beast – If Marshawn Lynch did nothing else but provide 44 yards on six carries in the 51-yard drive to Hauschka’s game-winner, it would have been enough. But Lynch, as usual, did more than enough, and then some. He finished with 125 yards on 21 carries. That after being limited to eight carries and 23 yards against the Rams last Monday night, and also spending parts of the first and second quarters on the sideline against the Bucs because he was sick.

Lynch returned, of course, to be a different kind of sick.

“Marshawn Lynch really stepped it up,” Wilson said. “He’s kind of our motto, just being so tough, no matter what the circumstances are. That’s what you love about Marshawn Lynch.”

Wilson giving his receivers a chance to make plays – Jermaine Kearse and Baldwin are making the ridiculous catch look routine, because their second-year QB has confidence in them that they will make the play if he provides the opportunity.

Exhibit A: Kearse’s up-and-over grab of a 27-yard pass, on a third-and-6 play, to give the Seahawks a first down at the Bucs’ 3-yard line. Adams was all over the coverage, but it didn’t deter Wilson from throwing the ball; and it definitely didn’t interfere with Kearse catching it. The effort brought back memories of other catches Kearse has made – and been allowed to make – this season. Like his 43-yard TD catch for what proved to be the game-winner in the season opener against the Panthers in Carolina.

Exhibit B: Baldwin’s tightrope act along the sideline to snare a 19-yard pass from Wilson to give the Seahawks a first down at the Bucs’ 10, setting up the TD that cut the lead to 24-14. It was eerily similar to the tippy-toe grab Baldwin made on a third-and-7 play for a 24-yard gain on a TD drive in the fourth quarter of the Week 4 overtime win against the Texans in Houston.

The defense when the game was on the line – On the Bucs’ first six possessions, the Seahawks yielded 24 points, 274 yards, 21 first downs and allowed Tampa to convert eight of 10 third-down situations. On the Bucs’ final five possessions, the Seahawks yielded zero points, 76 yards, three first downs and no conversions in five third-down situations.

The biggest series? The Bucs got the ball first in overtime, but the Seahawks forced a three-and-out.

“We had to persevere, you know?” nickel back Walter Thurmond said.

What needs work

The run defense – The Seahawks entered last Monday night’s game in St. Louis against the Rams ranked sixth in the league in rushing defense, allowing an average of 91.6 yards. The Rams ran for 200 yards, including 134 from rookie Zac Stacy, and the Seahawks’ run defense slipped to No. 15. Sunday, the Bucs ran for 205 yards, including 158 from rookie Mike James, and the Seahawks’ run defense has slipped to No. 19.

Those 405 rushing yards in a seven-day span are almost twice what the Seahawks had allowed in their three previous games (205).

“We weren’t wrapping up on our tackles and stuff like that,” Thurmond said. “They ran the ball effectively, and that’s unacceptable. The past two weeks, where we gave up almost over 200 yards rushing against us, they came out and imposed their will on us.”

The protection – The Bucs did not sack Wilson, but they did smack him around. It forced Wilson into an extended stay in the training room after the game and prompted Carroll to express concern about how many times his QB is being hit. Again.

“He takes the hits and keeps getting back up,” Baldwin said. “I know today he got hit a lot. You could see it in his eyes. He was hurting a little bit. But he found a way to pull it out. That’s resilience.”

The pass defense – Yes, the Seahawks are ranked No. 2 in average passing yards allowed. And yes, they still share the NFL lead with 13 interceptions. But in the past two games, they have faced a QB who was making his first start since 2011 (the Rams’ Kellen Clemens) and a QB who was making his fifth start, period (the Bucs’ Mike Glennon). And they’ve allowed too many completions (32) for too many yards (326), especially in key situations.

As Chuck Knox always said, “Pass defense is rush plus coverage.”

“He did a great job of keeping the plays alive,” defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who leads the Seahawks with 5.5 sacks, said of Glennon. “He broke out of a lot of sacks today, which was impressive. He was a rookie and he did that. That was pretty good.”