RENTON Rain is wet. New Year’s has Eve.
And Doug Baldwin wants the ball more.
What else is new?
A camera and stretch microphone from NFL Films got Seattle’s number-one wide receiver on the sidelines during last weekend’s slog on offense at Dallas going “Angry Doug Baldwin” again.
So you want more passes your way?
“Can’t imagine where you’d get that from,” Baldwin said with a wry grin on Thursday, three days before his Seahawks’ regular-season finale against Arizona.
sAll this week leading into Seattle’s quest to steal the NFC’s final playoff spot--it will take a Seahawks (9-6) win plus Carolina (11-4) winning at Atlanta (9-6)--quarterback Russell Wilson and coaches have been asked the same question: What’s wrong with the passing game?
It has gained just 71 and 60 yards in the last two weeks. That’s Canton Bulldogs, leather-helmet stuff--especially for an offense that this season set the franchise record for yards passing with 446, Oct. 29 against Houston.
Offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell said this week of Wilson: “I don’t think he has played as consistent as he has maybe in weeks earlier.”
Coach Pete Carroll said “we just have to find our consistency” on throws to string together first downs.
Baldwin thinks the answer is simple: Throw me the ball.
Wilson has thrown 51 passes in the last two games. That’s been the blowout loss to the NFC West-champion Rams and 21-12 win last weekend at Dallas, when Seattle converted all three of the Cowboys’ turnovers into touchdowns. Baldwin has been targeted 10 times in those two games. He has five catches for just 41 yards.
For Baldwin, there is a direct correlation between the Seahawks’ offense humming smoothly at its best and him catching more passes. The numbers support him. While the offense was getting shut out until the final 83 seconds of the third quarter against Los Angeles, Baldwin had just one catch on three targets for 6 yards. When Seattle had no points until the final 98 seconds of the second quarter at Dallas, Baldwin had two catches on four targets for just 4 yards.
Three catches in five quarters with zero points.
Baldwin had twice that many receptions against the Texans on Oct. 29, the day Wilson set the Seahawks’ single-game record with 452 yards passing.
Baldwin’s touchdown pass from Wilson in the fourth quarter on Christmas Eve that put the Seahawks up two scores at Dallas showed why he wants the ball more. Look at the exquisite move he victimized poor Chidobe Awuzie with coming off the line for an easy, clinching score.
“Honestly, my release at the line of scrimmage is my bread and butter. That’s what I hang my hat on,” Seattle’s $46 million receiver said. “That’s what I look forward to when guys press me, when defenses play man-to-man. That’s when I’m at my best. ...
“That’s my wheelhouse.”
Yes, Baldwin wants the ball more than he’s gotten it the last two games--heck, more than the 71 catches he has through 15 games. He didn’t tie the franchise record with 94 receptions last year, and he isn’t 99 yards away from joining Hall of Famer Steve Largent as the only Seahawks to gain 1,000 yards receiving in three consecutive seasons, because he likes to run decoy routes.
“Obviously, I would like to achieve that. That would be a great personal, individual achievement,” he said of Largent’s 1K mark. “Obviously, being in the same sentence as Steve Largent in any regard is an honor.
“However, I’m going to take the win however we can get it. That’s what’s most important.
“I know Steve personally. And I know he would give a lot back if he could have a Super Bowl. So just that same mindset and that same emotional response: I’d much rather get back to winning a ring than having individual stats.”
A legendary, All-Pro he will be opposing on Sunday at CenturyLink Field has gone a long way to sharpening the 29-year-old Baldwin’s wins-first mentality, and stoking his fire.
“It’s Larry Fitzgerald,” he said, becoming “Reverent Doug Baldwin” for a few moments on Thursday.
“I remember playing Madden with him on the cover.”
The Cardinals’ iconic receiver keeps doing it, at the age of 34. Fitzgerald’s 101 catches are tied for second-most in the league. It’s his third consecutive season with 100 receptions, and the fifth such season of his 14-year career. This is his ninth season with at least 1,000 yards receiving. He’s averaged six catches and 10 targets per game against Seattle, 155 receptions in 26 career games, with 11 touchdowns.
What makes him so extraordinary?
“Oh man, maybe that’s he’s 6-4, 200-and--nah,” then 5-10 Baldwin said, scoffing at Fitzgerald’s physical gifts.
“Besides the athletic tools that he has, he’s just an extremely cerebral football player. He knows Xs and Os. I’ve had a number of opportunities just to talk to him about football, and one of those things that I’ve taken away from him is that he really goes into games knowing what defenses are going to try to do against him, the different techniques. He has this huge--I don’t even know what to call it--but he just has this knowledge of defensive coordinators, defensive players that it’s just impeccable. It’s incredible. But it’s also not surprising because he’s had so much success you’d expect when you see how much work he puts into it.
“Larry is obviously going to, he’s going to go down as a Hall of Famer, but I really can’t say enough about the man. Because, I mean, he’s old as dirt and he’s still playing at an extremely high level. He’s just a professional through and through.”
Baldwin spent one offseason a few years ago in Minnesota. Fitzgerald was born and raised in south Minneapolis, and he still hosts teammates and players from around the NFL for workouts in the spring and summer in his city, and at its University of Minnesota.
Baldwin got hooked up with Fitzgerald for the first time through Tarvaris Jackson. The former Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback (2006-08) was the Seahawks’ backup to Wilson from 2011-15.
“It’s just one of those situations where you look at a guy who you know nothing about prior to meeting him but then once you meet him, you realize how much he really loves the sport, how much he puts into it, how dedicated he is, and like I said, how much of a professional he is,” Baldwin said.
“Once I got to speak to him, watch him, it just changed my perspective on the game of football. Before, I was just getting by on my athleticism. But talking to Larry and some other guys across the league, they really taught me the chess match that’s within the game of football.”
Fitzgerald has had 58 of his 101 receptions thrown by backups this season. Cardinals starter Carson Palmer broke his arm in the seventh game. Drew Stanton will start against the Seahawks for the second time in two months on Sunday.
Baldwin calls Fitzgerald “probably the best body-language and mannerism manipulator” among all NFL receivers.
“He does an excellent job of just not giving anything away, and also telling people that he’s going one way when he’s actually going the other,” Baldwin said. “So it’s incredible to watch.
“It’s really artwork on the football field to me.”
Baldwin particularly cherishes Fitzgerald’s counsel beyond football. Baldwin has evolved noticeably in the last few years, some of it through maturing from his early and mid-20s, some from getting engaged. He’s become a leader in the NFL for social change and particularly police reform. The Stanford graduate and son of a career law-enforcement officer wrote a letter this fall to Congress and the Senate Judiciary Committee that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell co-signed, to advocate for criminal-justice legislation.
Fitzgerald wanted to know about that side of Baldwin more than the football one.
“Yeah, first, Larry didn’t want to talk about football. It was me. I kept pushing him, asking him questions.” Baldwin said. “Of course, I’m trying to get an advantage, right? But he just wanted to know who I was as a person, as a man.
“That to me was--in the moment, I didn’t really appreciate it--but once I took a step back and as I got older, I really started to realize how valuable that is. As you guys know, in our world, we don’t really get asked about how are you doing or who you are as human being. It’s always about football. Questions are always about football. But for another football player to really start to engage with me about me as a person and life outside of football, I thought it was pretty profound.
“That was the biggest takeaway that I had from Larry.”
As this past week has showed, in color footage, that’s not to say Fitzgerald took away Baldwin wanting the ball more. Always more.