Whatever else Golden Tate accomplishes before he retires from football, a highlight play the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver made Sunday afternoon will be his legacy.
Tate is blessed with quick feet and soft hands, two attributes necessary for somebody paid to catch passes. And yet on the longest gain of a pivotal drive that put the Seahawks beyond the reach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tate used neither of them.
The receiver wasn’t in a receivership mode when he turned toward Dallas linebacker Sean Lee and impersonated a wrecking ball.
Tate stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 202 pounds. Lee is listed at 6-2, 245. But the blocker enjoyed a substantial advantage: he knew where he was going and what he wanted to do when he got there.
“The first half of the play, I was just trying to get open,” said Tate, whose cold-blooded collision with the unwitting Lee sprang quarterback Russell Wilson for a 14-yard gain in the fourth quarter of the Seahawks’ 27-7 victory. “And when I realized Russell was going to run, I looked for somebody to block, and somebody happened to be right there.
“Either I’d hit him hard, or he’d hit the quarterback hard. So I hit him.”
Tate caught three passes against the Cowboys — his first three receptions of the season — each worth a first down. But the force with which he put down Lee symbolized an effort that revealed the Seahawks’ gritty, salty side.
“We were on the attack,” said coach Pete Carroll. “This is a very aggressive group and I think you could see it. I felt it, really, in all phases.”
The distinction between aggressive and unsportsmanlike can be blurry, and Tate’s block found the teams taking predictable sides on the issue.
With the notable exception of Lee himself — “It’s part of the deal, part of the game, it’s not really for me to judge,” he said — the Cowboys thought Tate deserved a flag for the hit, while the Seahawks were sure he deserved something more along the line of a medal.
“I thought it was a great block, I thought it was a great play,” said Carroll. “I think that was just a great opportunity, and he knocked the heck out of that kid.”
“A great block,” added Wilson. “Completely legal, it looked like. A tremendous job.”
Countered Cowboys coach Jason Garrett: “I don’t want to get into the officiating, but I thought that was a defenseless player who was hit.
“That is something the league is trying to guard against, and the block is a pretty good example of what that was.”
Even the most vigilant Seahawks fan might understand Garrett’s frustration: A roughing penalty was called after the controversial block, but it was called on Dallas middle linebacker Bruce Carter, who nudged Wilson out of bounds.
For what it’s worth, Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereia, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating, agrees with Garrett.
“The hit on Lee is an illegal blindside block,” Pereia said on television. “Lee is considered defenseless, which means you cannot lower your head and hit in the head/neck area.”
Although he avoided a flag, Tate still could be subject to a fine in the neighborhood of $20,000. Whatever the league decides, it’s clear the Notre Dame product has evolved from a rookie with a dubious commitment to pro football into a third-year veteran who’s earned the trust of his head coach.
“You can see that he needs to get the ball more,” said Carroll. “He’s on fire. He is so electric with the ball. We have to find more ways to get him the football. You get the ball in his hands and something good looks like it’s going to happen.
“And he’s tough as nails, obviously.”
When told of Carroll’s flattering words and vow to get him more involved in the offense, Tate smiled. But it was the “tough-as-nails” evaluation that underscores how far Golden Tate has come as a complete player.
“Linebackers and safeties are always trying to take your head off,” he said. “Who says offensive guys can’t do the same thing?”
When you’re tough as nails, it’s fun, every once in a while, to play the part of the email@example.com