Welcome back, Zach Miller.
After missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, Seattle’s starting tight end returned, adding another dimension to the offense as the Seahawks toppled the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals 34-22 Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Just having Zach back, he’s so consistent,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He made some big plays for us on third down as well. He’s such a great blocker, how he moves his feet and he’s so strong. Just having him back makes a difference.”
Miller led Seattle in receptions with five for 40 yards and a touchdown. What won’t appear in the box score is that Seattle was able to open up its playbook and employ more sophisticated schemes with the seven-year veteran in the lineup. The Seahawks had pared back the position’s responsibilities and duties when rookie Luke Willson started in Miller’s absence and productivity waned — tight ends caught only four passes for 45 yards and no touchdowns during the two games he missed.
“You can just see he’s a clutch guy and we count on him and there was a lot of stuff he did in the running game as well that helps us,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “Without him we were so new with Luke doing all the little intricacies and stuff, so it was great to have him back.”
In just the first half against Arizona, Miller was Wilson’s favorite target, getting a team-high five passes thrown his way, and he snagged four passes for 34 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown that gave Seattle a 14-0 lead.
With two minutes left in the second quarter, Wilson looked to Miller on third-and-one at midfield, completing a seven-yard pass and keeping the drive alive. A few plays later, kicker Stephen Hauschka drilled a 51-yard field goal that gave Seattle a 17-10 lead at halftime.
Miller came up big again in the third quarter. Facing third-and-3 at the Arizona 48, Wilson scrambled and let loose a wobbly pass as linebacker Daryl Washington wrapped his arms around Wilson’s waist. Miller recalled locking eyes with Wilson, knowing he had to find a way to make a play. Miller dived and corralled the pass for a 6-yard gain, securing the first down.
“I got away from a defensive player and Zach Miller just made a huge play,” Wilson said. “We just tried to give him a chance to make a big play for us and he made a great catch and a big first down.”
Six plays later, Wilson found reserve tight end Kellen Davis dragging along the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown pass, putting the Seahawks ahead 24-13.
Miller, who lives in Tempe, Ariz., has played dozens of football games in Arizona. He was a high school All-American at nearby Desert Vista High School and is Arizona State University’s all-time leader in receptions by a tight end, despite leaving for the NFL after his junior season. Previous to Thursday’s game, he’d faced the Cardinals in his hometown three times — twice with the Seahawks and once with Oakland — but he hadn’t enjoyed a standout game combined with a victory.
“It was great, “ he said. “I think there were probably 30 or 40 family and friends at the game.”