As excruciating as it was for you -- and the Seahawks -- to watch the Rams slink off their home field without scoring a touchdown and losing 12-6 to first-place Arizona last night, nothing's changed for Seattle.
Even if Timm Rosenbach comes back next to quarterback the Cardinals -- Ryan Lindley, c'mon down! -- the Seahawks' task remains unchanged this morning: Beat the 49ers at home Sunday, beat Arizona for the second time in a month next week in the desert and beat the Rams at home in the regular-season finale and they will win the NFC West -- no matter what other tricks those resilient Cardinals pull off with their third-string QB.
"This is right in the middle of the finish of this season," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, "and this is a really exciting time.
"Like I've said before, I really like how the schedule is. It just makes for so much interest. Coming home to CenturyLink, coming home to the '12s' this week, we are expecting to hear them turn up. I know our players ... they're ready to turn up."
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Yes, the 63-year-old Carroll used "turn up" twice there.
BALDWIN'S NEWEST TAG
For today's News Tribune I explained how Doug Baldwin is far more valuable than merely having the 46th-highest reception total in the NFL.
"Pedestrian." An "appetizer." And largely because of those two tags, "Angry."
But here’s an adjective you don’t hear much when people talk about Baldwin’s play:
That’s what Baldwin was on two plays of the same key drive last weekend in Philadelphia. He had five catches for 97 yards, but those two plays in the third quarter were the only ones the Seahawks really needed to win their third straight game. Those plays are why Seattle is 9-4 entering Sunday’s game against San Francisco (7-6) and still have a chance to be the NFC’s top seed in next month’s postseason.
Philadelphia had cut its deficit to 17-14 in a game Seattle had been thoroughly controlling, and the Seahawks were backed up on their own 21. The crowd at Lincoln Financial Field was loud for one of the only times on a brisk, windy evening.
On first down Russell Wilson rolled to his right away from more pressure from the Eagles’ pass rush. For one of the relatively few times this season Wilson let it fly deep, 40 yards downfield to Baldwin.
“I’m trusting Doug to go up and get the plays,” Wilson said afterward.
While the ball was in flight Baldwin shrewdly engaged Bradley Fletcher in a grabbing contest. Baldwin reached in on the Eagles cornerback. Fletcher retaliated by grabbing Baldwin around his torso with both hands. Baldwin pushed back.
As the pass sailed over the heads of both of the preoccupied players incomplete, officials flagged Fletcher. The 44-yard pass-interference penalty put the ball at the Eagles’ 35.
Baldwin knows now what he had not yet fully internalized in 2011, when he was an undrafted rookie out of Stanford: NFL officials will almost always throw a flag and rule defensive pass interference no matter who initiates the contact when the defender doesn’t turn his head back to look for the ball while it is in flight.
“That was kind of a nuance that you grow with because we know the rules,” Baldwin said before a practice this week. “Once you come to knowing the rules in those situations you can reference that very quickly.
“So when I look up at the ball, and the ball was inside, I knew it was going to be a difficult chance for me to get to the ball. While looking at the defender looking at me, I knew if I ran into him it could set up a good situation for us.”
Put another way: Percy Harvin never said that.
So, no, Baldwin’s not so much a game-changing burner like the one since traded to the New York Jets.
Baldwin is the thinking-man’s receiver.
“Either me getting through him to get the ball or him interfering with me and getting the pass-interference call,” Baldwin said of his choices on that throw against the Eagles. “Yeah, I thought that was the best decision in that situation.”
This week, coach Pete Carroll just smiled when asked about the play.
“Doug is a savvy football player,” Carroll said. “He didn’t miss that opportunity. He knew exactly what he was in. He saw the flight of the ball, knew what was going on, and put himself in position. It was almost a no-win opportunity for the corner; he was going to run into him, he was going to disrupt him.
“I thought Doug played that perfectly.”
That perfection set up his next savvy play — the one that effectively sealed the Seahawks’ catapulting win.
On first down at the Philadelphia 23, Baldwin lined up in the slot on the right, along the hash marks. He and Wilson, who was in shotgun formation scanning the field, both noticed at the same time the Eagles had moved all 11 of their defenders within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage. That included free safety Malcolm Jenkins from the middle of the field. He had walked up the 17-yard line in the slot in man-to-man coverage opposite Baldwin.
Cover “zero.” No safeties in the middle. The look Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had been drilling with Wilson, Baldwin and the offense for months — make that, years — but one that shows only fleetingly in games.
“It was a perfect storm. It worked out exactly the way we hoped it would,” Bevell said. “We get pretty excited about that.”
Wilson was so excited for the play once he saw what the Eagles were in, he said Thursday: “You try not to smile too much before the play happens.”
The route Baldwin ran wasn’t the play Wilson called in the huddle. It didn’t have to be. It was the automatic Baldwin had been trained to run and Wilson had been coached to look for in this exact coverage, a seam route with a jab step about 8 yards into it to fake a post route to the middle.
Wilson looked only at Baldwin. New tight end Tony Moeaki chipped outside right on the blitzing linebacker, part of Seattle stonewalling Philadelphia’s eight-man blitz. Baldwin’s jab step beat Jenkins at the 12. There was no one behind the safety as Baldwin caught the ball for the textbook touchdown reception.
The Seahawks led 24-14. The Eagles never threatened again.
That’s the value of the Seahawks’ leading receiver. Not that he is tied for only 45th in the NFL with 53 receptions. Not that his 616 yards and three touchdowns have him ranked outside the league’s top 50 receivers.
Twenty of Baldwin’s 53 catches have come on third downs. That’s 38 percent of his receptions. That’s a higher rate on third down than the NFL’s top six in receptions: Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh, Julio Jones of Atlanta, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas of Denver, Matt Forte of Chicago and Juilan Edelman of New England.
That’s an illustration of the trust Wilson has with Baldwin when he truly needs a connection.
This is an illustration of Baldwin’s pride: He still burns inside from ESPN commentator and Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter calling Baldwin and fellow undersized Seahawks’ receivers such as Jermaine Kearse as “pedestrian” and mere “appetizers” before February’s Super Bowl.
Many times while Bevell has been speaking after Wednesday practices to the media, Baldwin has playfully poked his head in to ask Bevell as if he was another reporter, “Do you feel the wide receivers get enough separation?”
Baldwin is joking, but his message is clear: He does not like the perception Seattle’s offense sometimes stagnates because its receivers do not have the physical skills to get open down the field.