Jermaine Kearse has heard his critics.
Anyone with ears has heard Jermaine Kearse’s critics this season.
“It’s been a humbling year for me,” the former Lakes High School and University of Washington wide receiver said Saturday following the Seahawks’ also-humbling 34-31 loss to Arizona.
From boos inside CenturyLink Field through rants online and by howls on sports-talk radio, Kearse has been a frequent target this season. He’s been an outlet for frustration about Seattle’s inconsistent offense. His bashers say he’s been a reason the NFC West champions’ drive into the playoffs has remained in a lower gear, if not, at times, in neutral.
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This has not at all been the triumphant follow-up he expected when he signed a $13.5 million, three-year contract with his hometown team in early March.
“I mean, you just don’t pay attention to it,” Kearse said of the criticism. “It floats around, and you hear about it. But I’ve got great teammates who are just very encouraging, still.
“I just try to go out there and do everything that I can, whether that’s run blocking, whether that’s catching footballs, whether that’s helping other people get open. Trying to give my all for my teammates.”
Kearse got his first touchdown of the season on Christmas Eve, a brilliant, leaping catch on third down when the Seahawks had to have it. It came on a fade route to the back of the end zone that has infuriated his detractors for how often Russell Wilson still throws to him. It was his first score since the two touchdown catches he had in last January’s loss at Carolina in the NFC divisional playoffs.
He has just 39 catches — his fewest since 38 in 2014 — on a sizeable 82 targets. So, yes, more times than not something negative has happened when the Seahawks have thrown it to Kearse.
Or even with they haven’t.
His penalty for blocking well downfield ahead of Tyler Lockett’s catch on a slant route on the first play of last weekend’s loss to Arizona was the sixth time this season Kearse has been penalized for offensive pass interference. That’s the most OPIs in the league. He’s also been flagged for a false start and illegal motion. Kearse and Oakland’s Michael Crabtree are the NFL’s most penalized wide receivers, and four of Crabtree’s fouls are for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The 82 targets in 15 games show how strong the trust remains between Wilson and Kearse. They began building it as rookies during spring minicamps on side fields at team headquarters along Lake Washington, when Wilson was a third-round draft pick trying to win a backup job and Kearse was an undrafted free agent just trying to make the team in any capacity.
How much does Wilson still trust Kearse, over the objections of many? When Seattle needed points in a hurry to get back from a 31-0 deficit against Carolina with the 2015 season on the line, Wilson threw to Kearse twice for scores in what became a 31-24 thriller. Wilson threw to Kearse eight times in the overtime tie at Arizona in October, but got just three completions. Even though Kearse had just two receptions against Buffalo last month, Wilson kept throwing to him — nine times.
The most memorable display of their bond came in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay in January 2015. Wilson threw four interceptions, all in Kearse’s direction, with two of those off the receiver’s hands as the Packers built a 16-0 lead.
But after the Seahawks’ miraculous rally to force overtime, Wilson changed a play from midfield to a post route to the guy who had directly caused two interceptions earlier that afternoon. Kearse caught the audible pass for the score that sent Seattle to Super Bowl 49.
It was Kearse’s fourth TD catch in four postseason games. Now he has six scores in Seattle’s most important games since 2013, after adding two more against the Panthers in the Seahawks’ most recent playoff game.
“He trusts to throw me the ball,” Kearse said Saturday, “and he trusts that I am going to make a play – no matter the situation.”
This month, Kearse lost his job. Two weeks ago, in the win over the Los Angeles Rams, Tyler Lockett started for him as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver behind Doug Baldwin. Kearse went to No. 3 for the first time since October 2014, when the Seahawks traded Percy Harvin.
Kearse downplayed the demotion.
“I mean, I was still playing,” Kearse said.
“Just trying to make the most of my opportunities for my teammates and give my all when I’m out there.”
Sure enough, on Saturday Kearse had nine more targets from Wilson. He caught four balls, including that first touchdown that started Seattle’s rally to tie in the second half.
Now Lockett is out for the season with a broken leg. Kearse will be back as the No. 2 wide receiver.
Whether his critics like it or not.
“It’s just the ups and downs, you know?” Kearse said. “Going against adversity and just being able to …”
“Just keep your focus and stay mentally in it, and just be able to give my all out there for my teammates.”
LOCKETT TO IR, KASEN WILLIAMS UP
Seattle placed Lockett on injured reserve Tuesday, three days after he suffering a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula of his right leg while catching a pass during the team’s loss to Arizona. He had surgery into Sunday morning and was still in the hospital into Monday evening.
The Seahawks filled the second-year star’s spot on the active roster with a recently familiar face. Williams was on the active roster for the last part of the 2015 season and two playoffs games in his NFL debut as an undrafted rookie from the University of Washington.
Williams overcame a broken fibula he got during a UW game in October 2013, plus a ligament and bone displacement in his foot. He needed surgeries to set the leg and insert pins in his foot. His junior season at UW was ruined, as was much of his senior year, and thus, his shot of an NFL team drafting him.
Seattle released Williams on Sept. 3 after his injury-filled preseason — he couldn’t get past a strained hamstring — then signed the former multi-sport star at Sammamish’s Skyline High School to its practice squad Sept. 20.
The 24-year-old Williams played in two regular-season games last season and made one catch. He learned to do what he didn’t do much of at UW: play special teams.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (2-13)
1:25 p.m. Sunday, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California.
Against the Seahawks: The 49ers have lost five consecutive regular-season meetings and seven of their last eight against their NFC West rivals. San Francisco last beat Seattle on Dec. 8, 2013, 19-17. A loss Sunday would tie the most consecutive losses in the all-time series for the 49ers. They trail it 20-15.
Line: Seahawks by 9½.
What to know: The 49ers have changed since the last time the Seahawks played them, Seattle’s 37-18 victory at CenturyLink Field back on Sept. 25. They’ve won a game, last weekend at Los Angeles. San Francisco scored 15 points in the final 5:10 to beat the Rams 22-21. First-year Niners coach Chip Kelly had his team go for two after its final touchdown, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran it in for the win. … It was San Francisco’s first victory since its opener — also over the Rams. … Kaepernick replaced Blaine Gabbert as the starter three games after Gabbert completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 119 yards in Seattle. Kaepernick is completing a career-low 57 percent of his throws with 15 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 88.2. He’s been sacked 31 times in 10 games. He’s running again, for an average of 7.1 yards per try. He’s rushed 64 times in those 10 starts. … He may be running more Sunday. Lead rusher Carlos Hyde went on injured reserve this week. Hyde’s 988 yards this season is the reason San Francisco is fourth in the league in rush offense. The Niners are last in passing and 29th in total offense. … This could be Kaepernick’s last game with the 49ers, the only NFL team the former Super Bowl QB has known. One day after replacing Gabbert as the starter in October, Kaepernick restructured his $114-million, six-year contract down to two years that converted game bonuses into guaranteed money and added a clause that could make him a free agent in 2017. … Jeremy Kerley has 58 catches for 606 yards, leading the 49ers in both statistics. … The 49ers allowed the feeble Rams just 177 yards, the lowest total allowed by San Francisco in a game since 1992. . … Linebacker Ahmad Brooks shares the team lead with six sacks. He has six sacks in his last five games against the Seahawks. … The 49ers have been decimated by injuries, retirements and more on defense, and are a shell of their former selves there. They are last in the league in yards allowed, rush defense, pass defense and points allowed. … Their turnover differential of minus-3 hasn’t helped. … The 49ers have won nine consecutive regular-season home finales, the longest such streak in the NFL.
Quotable: “For us, looking ahead is Sunday. That’s where our focus is right now, that's where all of our energy is going. We want to make sure we end this season right with a win and do everything this week to prepare for that.”—Kaepernick to Bay Area reporters on Tuesday, part of eight minutes of parrying questions about his future with the 49ers.