Paul Richardson wasn’t an obvious candidate to interrupt an old-fashioned slog Saturday night with the catch of the year.
Since the Seahawks drafted him out of the University of Colorado in 2014, the wide receiver’s NFL career has been a three-year journey on an exercise bike. A disappointing rookie season turned into a catastrophic one when he tore up his knee in the first round of the playoffs.
After a recovery that sidelined him for almost an entire year, Richardson returned late last season and caught a career-long 40-yard pass — only to tear his hamstring on the play.
Injuries in football are an occupational hazard, but when you’re a second-round draft choice limited to two touchdown receptions in three seasons, words like “bust” are pronounced in place of “potential.”
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The 2016 regular season found Richardson stuck behind Tyler Lockett on the depth chart, and rightly so: Whatever the Seahawks liked about Richardson’s game out of college, they liked about Lockett.
But when Lockett broke his leg two weeks ago, it gave Richardson a chance to make a play that ranks on the short list of greatest in Seattle sports history.
Tangled up with safety Tavon Wilson on a fourth-and-goal from the Lions 2, Richardson used one hand to catch Russell Wilson’s touchdown pass. Significantly enhancing the degree of difficulty on the play was the fact Richardson’s hand was behind the safety’s back.
“One of the best catches you’ll see,” said Wilson, “probably ever.”
In terms of acrobatic artistry, Richardson’s touchdown was reminiscent of the one-handed grab Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. made against the Cowboys in 2014. Which is saying something, because Beckham’s catch is considered the gold standard of highlight plays.
So crazy was Richardson’s grab that head coach Pete Carroll admitted to thinking it was an incompletion caused by defensive pass interference.
“I didn’t really see it,” said Carroll. “Then I noticed Doug Baldwin running down the sideline to celebrate with Paul.”
Richardson’s display of amazing grace was not the only reason the Seahawks rolled to a 26-6 victory in a wild card game that served to stabilize them. They committed to a ground attack powered by the legs of Thomas Rawls, given some running room cleared by a surprisingly assertive offensive line.
Meanwhile, the visitors were limited to a pair of field goals, which had something to do with the Seahawks swarming defense and something to with Detroit staying true to its tradition of self-destruction.
The Lions were looking to win their first road playoff game since 1957. Then receiver Golden Tate dropped Matthew Stafford’s well-aimed spiral three snaps into the first quarter, and you got the sense the moment was way too big for them.
By contrast, it was as if Richardson knew there was a breakout performance in his future. Not only did he make the one-handed catch that gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead, he caught another pass — with one hand, natch — for a 27-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
“Paul’s been a big-play guy ever since he came here,” said Baldwin. “He’s had some unfortunate events in terms of injuries, but he can be pretty dominant. We expect great things out of him.
“For him to have success in a game — in a playoff game — has a number of major implications.”
Whatever else Richardson is able to accomplish in Seattle, he’ll always have the memory of converting an impossible chance into the touchdown that helped send the Seahawks into the second round of the playoffs. He’ll always have Saturday.
So will we.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath