The Seattle Seahawks’ hopes of returning to the Super Bowl aren’t resting in the hands of Steven Hauschka and Jon Ryan.
But those hopes could depend on their feet.
Some afternoons figure to be more stressful for kickers and punters than others. Sunday qualifies as stressful, thanks to anticipated winter-storm gusts that could turn any given boot in the NFC Championship game into an adventure.
Upon learning of a weather forecast calling for fierce winds at CenturyLink Field, the first person I thought of was Sean Landeta. Among the most accomplished punters in league history — he was named to the all-decade teams of the 1980s and 1990s — Landeta is remembered more for one punt he whiffed in the playoffs than the 1,401 regular-season punts he crushed for 60,707 yards.
Landeta’s New York Giants were backed up against their end zone in a division-round game against the 1985 Chicago Bears. Landeta fielded a good snap, took a right step and a left step and then prepared to launch into the ball.
Except there was no ball. A swirling 35-mph wind at Soldier Field blew the ball off his foot and into the grasp of safety Shaun Gayle, who scored the 5-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a lead their peerless defense wouldn’t surrender.
Last season the Seahawks were beneficiaries of blustery conditions for their playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. While Hauschka kicked three field goals, the Saints’ Shayne Graham missed a pair of routine attempts into a stiff wind.
Then again, when the weather is wreaking havoc, there is no such thing as a routine field goal attempt. Graham’s failed kicks and the early struggle Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees had with the conditions — he threw for 34 yards in the first half — made up for a Seahawks offense that found Russell Wilson limited to a career-low 103 passing yards.
Rain won’t faze either Wilson or his Green Bay counterpart, Aaron Rodgers. Both are familiar with the challenge of delivering a wet football on target. (It’s similar to the challenge of delivering a dry football on target.)
Gusts are a different story. If a 25-mph wind can rattle a veteran named Brees, it can rattle anybody.
Which team will helped by the stormy weather? The better question is: Which team will be flummoxed by the stormy weather?
The Packers, with big-play receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, rely more on the downfield-strike component of their offense than the Seahawks, who will be happy to grind it out with running back Marshawn Lynch.
Against the Saints on a windy afternoon 12 months ago, Lynch carried the ball 28 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson’s role was reduced to “game manager,” a tired stereotype that hasn’t been accurate since midway through his rookie season of 2012. But it applied amid gusts unfavorable for passing last year, and it could apply Sunday.
If Pete Carroll had any kind of say in the matter, he’d order ideal weather because, well, that’s how the Seahawks coach rolls: Line ’em up, sort it out, may the best men win. Carroll doesn’t worry about factors beyond his control, and no factor is more beyond control than capricious gusts brought on by a winter storm.
But he trusts his guys will deal with it, because his guys already have dealt with it.
A prediction: Seahawks 24, Packers 16, but not a conventionally assembled 16. Green Bay will score two touchdowns and muff an extra point when holder Tim Masthay turns to stone after he sees Seattle’s version of Medusa, Kam Chancellor, go airborne during the snap.
Another prediction: Ryan enjoys a sound night of sleep Sunday, because the weather forecast released Saturday will have caused the punter to spend several hours tossing and turning.
As for the Seahawks, they were the better team in the season opener against the Packers, and they remain the better team right now. And while I don’t expect Mother Nature to corrupt the Hawks’ inherent edge, I also will grant that Mother Nature has no conscience.
The foot of a superior NFL punter was supposed to meet a ball 29 years ago. Then the ball disappeared, gone with the wind.
And people bet on this stuff?