Being a successful receiver in the Seattle Seahawks offense requires a number of unique traits beyond the usual attributes associated with NFL receivers such as speed, height, route-running or hands.
For starters, a Seahawks receiver had better be a willing and able blocker, because as offensive line coach Tom Cable noted talking to Seahawks fans at this year's Seahawks Town Hall event, "we're the best running team in football because of (the receivers). It's not because of 24, it's not those goons up front or Russell (Wilson) or whatever; it's really the receivers." Cable's point being that without receiver blocking, good runs can happen, but the difference between a solid gain and a 69-yard Thomas Rawls touchdown can be Jermaine Kearse blocking a cornerback on the edge.
The Seahawks offensive philosophy starts with a physical running game, and that includes blocking for the receivers. Being committed to the run also means Seahawks receivers have to be opportunistic. No team in the NFL attempted fewer passes than the Seahawks from 2012 to 2014, a formula that has helped produce a lot of wins, but not a ton of targets for receivers.
And when it comes to being opportunistic, nobody has made the most of limited chances than Kearse, who will look to make a few more memorable plays Sunday when the Seahawks host Carolina, the team against which Kearse scored his first NFL touchdown as well as a 63-yard score in the playoffs last season.
When fellow starting receiver Doug Baldwin is asked about Kearse's ability to make big plays, he almost takes offense to the question. It Baldwin's eyes, Kearse doesn't make big plays in big moments as much as he does just capitalize on whatever chances come his way.
"What makes Jermaine an excellent receiver is that he's always focused in the moment," Baldwin said. "He doesn't allow distractions or a lack of looks his way prevent him from staying focused in the moment. So he's always ready for the opportunity when it comes his way.
"You guys think of it as miraculous catches, but that's just what he does on a consistent basis when he gets the opportunity. So it's not surprising to us. Fortunately we have him to make those big plays for us in crucial moments when we need him to."
Fair enough, Doug, but it's hard not to look at Kearse's wow-moments-to-catch ratio (no, that's not a real stat) and wonder if he doesn't have some sort of big-play gene. Five games into his fourth season, the former University of Washington standout has 95 catches and a modest 10 touchdowns in the regular season and postseason combined, yet of those 10 touchdowns, five of them are plays that even casual Seahawks fans can recall in an instant.
The first of those memorable touchdowns came against this week's opponent, the Carolina Panthers. In 2013, with Seattle and Carolina locked in a close, low-scoring game—do these two teams play any other kind?—Kearse made a leaping 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Seahawks ahead for good. It was his first career touchdown and just his fifth career catch.
The 2013 postseason brought two more memorable Kearse touchdowns, the go-ahead score on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game, and the Super Bowl touchdown that, while less significant to the outcome, was one of his best individual efforts, with him pinballing off several Denver defenders before scoring a touchdown that helped punctuate a blowout victory.
In the past Kearse has cited that score in Super Bowl XLVIII as his favorite because, well, it's tough to top a touchdown in a Super Bowl win, but for Baldwin, Kearse's best moment was the go-ahead score against the 49ers.
Baldwin had a close-up view of that play because "I was actually in the wrong spot" when all of Seattle's receivers went deep after the 49ers had jumped offside.
"It was a free play, the defense jumped offside, he ran down there, got open and caught a beautiful pass," Baldwin said. "That was my favorite."
Last season's playoff game against Carolina saw Kearse haul in a one-handed, 63-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to give Seattle a lead it would never lose. Then in the NFC championship game, after four passes intended for Kearse in regulation were all intercepted, he hauled in the 35-yard game-winner in overtime.
"I don't know, but he does have it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Kearse's knack for big plays. "Just throughout his career with us, he's always found ways to make crucial catches in plays and really surprise you with the excellence of the catch. The great grab over the top of (the Panthers) at their place, and the one hander he made here in the playoff game, those are just remarkable plays. He's pretty consistent at pulling that together, so hopefully we can get another couple of plays from him this week."
Kearse doesn't really have a good explanation for all those memorable catches, saying it's "Just being available and making the most of it."
As was the case in each of the past two postseasons, his big catches tend to come in bunches, and seeing as he had a 30-yard score last week and is facing Carolina again Sunday, Kearse is hoping he might be due for another big touchdown.
"That's what I'm hoping," he said. "I just try to be available, and when the ball is thrown, make plays. They usually do come in bunches, so hopefully this is one of those instances."