The NFL’s official pre-draft scouting report for Jermaine Kearse described the former Lakes High and Washington Huskies receiver as a “polished route runner with decent hands,” but somebody who “will lose focus at times.”
Two years after Kearse slipped through the draft altogether, an updated scouting report on him might read:
“Plays his best on the brightest stage.”
Kearse’s gorgeously executed catch Saturday night at CenturyLink Field became the touchdown that gave the Seattle Seahawks the lead for good against the Carolina Panthers. Between the 2013 NFC Championship, Super Bowl XLVIII and the Hawks’ 31-17 divisional round game defeat of the Carolina Panthers, Kearse has scored touchdowns in three consecutive playoff games.
The touchdowns have been anything but — excuse the term — pedestrian. Kearse bounced off four tacklers and generally resembled a human pinball during his 23-yard Super Bowl scamper to the end zone, and his 63-yard score Saturday was no less electrifying.
Kearse caught the pass with his right hand because his left arm was being used in an attempt to disengage Panthers cornerback Bené Benwikere. The officials could have seen offensive pass interference — they seem to be seeing a version of pass interference whenever a receiver and defensive are within five feet of each other — but no flag was dropped, and Kearse was off to the races toward the pylon in the left corner of the north end zone.
“I saw the ball thrown and tried to use my body to kind of steer the guy,” Kearse said of his close encounter with Benwikere. “Everything happened so fast, you kind of react.
“I was telling myself: ‘Just get to the pylon. I’ve always wanted to dive on the pylon.’ ”
Just as Carolina safety Tre Barber appeared in position to cut Kearse off before end zone, he took the dive for the pylon. When the ball touched it, the Seahawks had a 14-7 lead — and the longest pass reception in their playoff history.
Kearse, who finished the night with a career-high 129 receiving yards, has emerged as a something of a security-blanket option for quarterback Russell Wilson. He’s also epitomizes a group of Hawks receivers still drawing inspiration from the perception they are the weak link of a dominant team.
In Kearse’s case, he had a legitimate reason to be chippy after no NFL team drafted him in 2012.
“I was just trying to look for an open door and to get in somewhere,” he said Saturday. “I’ve always preached about getting an opportunity and making the most of it. That’s just what I did. I worked my tail off to get on special teams and then I worked my way getting into the offense.
“I slowly got there, and now I just want to make plays for the team.”
Kearse wasn’t the only receiver to make plays against the Panthers. Doug Baldwin, whose locker is next to Kearse’s at CenturyLink Field and does his best to repeat the “nobody-believes-in-us” theme at any opportunity, had a 16-yard touchdown among his three pass receptions.
“They tell us to get over it,” Baldwin told his close friend Kearse, who shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think we can just get over it. … Of course, you hear it all the time, but whatever. It just comes down to us. We put the work in and we know what we’re capable of and when an opportunity shows up, we just make the most of it.”