SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Doug Baldwin leapt and twisted into the air, contorting his body in a way that allowed him to make a spectacular catch on a ball thrown a bit behind him. Once the Seahawks receiver landed, he backpedaled a couple of steps, spun around and sprinted to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.
The play was vintage Baldwin, a combination of athleticism and sure hands that are rare even among NFL receivers, but it was also the type of play Baldwin hasn't been able to make as often as he and the Seahawks would like this season due to a number of injuries that have affected him dating back to training camp.
If there was a silver lining in Sunday's penalty-marred 26-23 overtime loss to the 49ers it might have been the play of Baldwin, not just because he caught four passes for a team-high 77 yards and two touchdowns, but because he came out of the day feeling like he might finally be getting right from a physical standpoint.
Baldwin, who missed last week's game with a hip injury, has also dealt with a groin injury, an elbow injury, a sprained knee that kept him out of two games early in the season, and an injury to his other knee that caused him to miss almost all of training camp and the preseason. On Sunday, however, he felt like he might finally be getting back to his old self.
"I felt good," Baldwin said. "I think this has been a long time coming. We've been working diligently trying to get my body right. It has just been a process moving all up the chain; I'm finally feeling like my normal self. I think before the game we figured out the last component to making sure my body is staying healthy."
Baldwin started his day with a 5-yard touchdown catch on third-and-goal on the Seahawks' opening possession, the first of four very significant catches, all of which came on third down. In the second quarter, he got open for an 11-yard gain on third-and-8, keeping alive the drive that ended with his 35-yard score. Baldwin's fourth was a 26-yard catch that required him to absorb a huge hit. That third-and-7 conversion helped set up Sebastian Janikowski's game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
"Doug played phenomenal today," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "That was a great game. Just incredible plays. Russ found him well and hooked up with him. Doug was spectacular today."
If Baldwin proves to be accurate in the assessment of his health, that would be very good news for Seattle's offense heading into the final two games of the season. Baldwin, who with 48 career touchdown catches moved into second place on the team's all-time list on Sunday, makes a big difference for Seattle's offense, not only in the big plays he makes, but also in how his presence can affect coverages.
"He makes a huge difference," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "He's a playmaker. We've played so much ball together. He's one of my favorite guys I've ever played with just because he's a competitor, he knows how to do everything right, he's as smart as it gets, as talented as it gets, so he has been a joy to play with over my seven years now, so he's special in that way. Anytime he's out there—you want one of your best players to be out on the field—and he makes a difference when his presence is out there. He had a great week of practice being able to battle through some things, then he was able to come out and have an unbelievable performance tonight."
Fan photos from the Seattle Seahawks' road game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 of the 2018 NFL season.