When it comes to Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse, the spectacular plays that the fourth-year receiver has made in his career make it easy at times to overlook the work he does on a daily basis.
Asked about his favorite catch, Kearse names multiple big, late-game catches from regular season victories and spectacular grabs from two different Super Bowls before he's reminded about the game-winning catch he had in one NFC championship game and the go-ahead touchdown he had the year before in that same game.
But while the Seahawks hope to get a memorable play or two out of Kearse this season, that's not what has allowed him to go from undrafted in 2012 to the practice squad to an NFL starter to being Seattle's leading receiver in Week 1 with 8 catches for 76 yards.
When it came to the passing game, most of the attention in training camp and the preseason was focused on newly-acquired tight end Jimmy Graham and rookie receiver Tyler Lockett, two big additions to the team, but while the spotlight was on those two, Kearse and fellow starter Doug Baldwin quietly put together very strong camp performances that showed why they are the team's top two receivers in the first place.
"He has been really consistent for years now," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He has been a guy that has made big plays for us, he plays on special teams, he adds on every chance he gets in every aspect of our game. The fact that he comes out starts it off with a good ball game, there's no surprises there. He's been a real core guy for us."
Yet for all the little things Kearse does—the blocking in the run game, the special teams play—he is still going to be known for his big catches in big moments. And that's a topic that will come up plenty this week with the Seahawks heading to face the Green Bay Packers, a team they beat with a Super Bowl berth on the line thanks to a Kearse touchdown in overtime.
What made that play really remarkable wasn't the catch itself, but rather the game Kearse and quarterback Russell Wilson were having up to that point. Before those two hooked up for the game-winning score, Kearse had been targeted four times, and all four had resulted in interceptions. There were different amounts of blame to go around on each interception, but it's fair to say neither player was enjoying his best performance through three-plus quarters. And that touchdown was a play that not only sent Seattle to a second consecutive Super Bowl, it also gave Kearse a confidence boost.
"I don't think we necessarily played well that game, but we found a way to find a way to win that game," Kearse said. "That's the moral of that game—we found a way to get a W.
"It was a good way to end a game, especially with what was going on throughout the game where me and Russ just couldn't connect. Just to end the game on a positive note, I kind of just carried it over."
That play against the packers showed a lot about the Seahawks and their oft-maligned receivers. Kearse and the Seahawks weren't having a good day, but they were resilient enough to pull out a victory.
"He's resilient, but that's just the nature of this receiving corps," Baldwin said. "You can count us out, you can say we're not good, but we're always going to find a way to make a play when it matters most. His rollercoaster ride he had in that championship game is the epitome of what our receiving corps is. We might not always get targets, but when we do get the targets we're going to make the most of them. He shows that continuously.
And while Wilson had failed on four attempts to connect with Kearse, he trusted him with the game on the line. Had the Seahawks spent the second half of that game assigning blame for their double-digit deficit, that comeback wouldn't have been possible. Instead, Wilson trusted Kearse in overtime, and Kearse rewarded that trust with yet another memorable catch.
"There's no question that Russell trusts Jermaine," Carroll said. "Those guys have grown up together in the NFL making plays together, and so he would never waver on that… There's no blame to be placed in any of this, these guys know that and understand it. The game has a way of doing what it does. The fact that they stayed together, and we executed down in the end, and Doug makes a huge catch and sets something up, and Marshawn (Lynch) makes a couple great runs there in the end, all of that had to happen to give us a chance to finish the game. There was no question, no doubt, that he would go to Jermaine regardless of what had happened before, and it's just reset, next play, because the trust is that deep I think between those guys."
So much of what has made the Seahawks successful—their competitive nature, their willingness to fight for each other, the ability of underdogs with chips on their shoulders to outplay their draft status—was on display on that final play against the Packers, and it is why, eight months later, a former undrafted rookie will start for one of the league's best teams in a Sunday night showdown with the Packers.
"Our guys are competitors, we talk about that all the time," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Those guys are going to compete. The cool part about both of those guys is that they're really mentally tough. Not every guy is mentally tough, but those two guys are really mentally tough. It's hard to shake Russell, he just has so much confidence in himself, so the belief that those four plays weren't going to define him, and to be able to make that throw, and (Jemaine) making that catch, just being able to have that firm conviction and belief in themselves to know, 'Hey, I'm going to make the next one that comes to me,' I think that speaks volumes for those two guys at the end."
The team practiced with the theme of "Competition Wednesday" in mind as they prepare to take on NFC rival Green Bay in a primetime NFC Championship rematch this Sunday.