There were two seconds remaining in the first half Sunday, and Jon Ryan’s pulse was pumping. A rare field-goal opportunity awaited the Seattle Seahawks punter, serving as an emergency substitute for sidelined kicker Steven Hauschka.
“It would have been my first career field goal,” said Ryan, an eighth-year veteran who usually holds for Hauschka, after the Seahawks’ 20-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Teammate Chris Maragos was happy to help Ryan. The reserve safety, a former holder at the University of Wisconsin, knows how to catch the snap and spin the ball so that the laces face the sky.
Though he last served as a full-time holder in 2009, his senior season with the Badgers, Maragos relished the chance to show he hadn’t lost his touch.
He had fielded 25 practice snaps on the sideline and was able to put the ball down, with the laces properly aligned, each time.
“I was spinning it,” Maragos said. “Every one was beautiful.”
A football is not round, though, and when it touches the ground, the ball goes in no certain direction. No matter that Maragos had taken 25 practice snaps
and put down each one perfectly. The hold that counted — it was to set up a 21-yard field goal — went awry.
“The ball was a little slick,” Maragos said. “I was trying to get the tip of the ball down, and I don’t know if it bounced funny or what. It slipped out. It was kind of a freak thing.”
If the bobbled hold was a freak thing, the mishap that followed forever will live as a football blooper, uh, highlight. Maragos, who once scored a touchdown at Ohio State as the holder on a fake field-goal attempt, decided to attempt the spectacular when safe would have worked fine.
“The basic scheme there is, if the ball goes down, you roll out and buy time and see if somebody can slip out and make a play,” Maragos said. “I should’ve just gone down. Our defense was playing well. I should’ve taken a knee, especially before the half right there.”
As Maragos was rolling out and trying to buy time, the Titans swarmed him. And when Maragos extended his right arm, as if to attempt a desperation throw, safety Michael Griffin stripped the ball and cornerback Jason McCourty collected it at the 23. Out of this chaos, a caravan of blockers formed to escort McCourty to the Seattle end zone.
Which is how the chip-shot field goal that was supposed to extend the Seahawks’ lead to 10-3 enabled the Titans to walk off the field at halftime ahead 10-7.
After a game with “artistry” that could be compared to a campy science fiction movie — it was so awful, it was actually kind of fun — coach Pete Carroll second-guessed his decision to kick with the ball inside the Tennessee 5 and time for a last snap.
“That’s a lot of pressure on those guys,” Carroll said of Maragos and Ryan, “and we didn’t handle it very well, obviously. We couldn’t have handled it any worse, as a matter of fact.”
True that. But given the offensive line’s blocking woes and the general sloppiness of the afternoon — the teams fumbled a combined eight times — it wasn’t as if a shot at a touchdown was a better option than a Ryan kick.
“I kicked in college,” the University of Regina (Saskatchewan) product said. “I was confident I would have at least hit the ball toward the uprights.”
We’ll never know, or at least we won’t know until the next time Hauschka is unavailable. As for Maragos, the embarrassing pratfall merely fed the hungry heart of a professional competitor.
“I wanted to go back out there and hold again, to be honest with you,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous, by any means. I was upset I couldn’t go out and redeem myself.”
Redemption might never come. Carroll suggested the new backup holder will be quarterback Russell Wilson, who placed kicks for Hauschka at North Carolina State.
“I’ll definitely start working on that throughout the weeks,” Wilson said.
Of course, Wilson being Wilson, he was serious.
Ryan, meanwhile, will continue to kick a few times a month, hoping to retain whatever muscle memory there is in a kicking leg exclusively used for punting.
His last field-goal attempt was converted off a 1-inch tee, during an exhibition game with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.
“I’ve played all these years and never scored a point,” he said.
And if the boot had gone through the uprights?
“I would’ve given that ball to my mom.”