The Seahawks' second chance became Butler's first opportunity.
Deon Butler lost the football in the lights. Here he was, positioned to make the biggest play of a mostly watch-and-learn rookie season, and the moment was about to blind him.
He continued to look up, hoping to see the ball again. Suddenly, fortunately, he did. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s pass landed in his soft hands, the crowd went bonkers, his teammates jumped and pumped their fists, and poetry filled the moment.
The Seahawks’ second chance became his first opportunity.
Their redemption became his introduction.
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Their survival became his emergence.
In an odd game that began with a timeout before a play was even run and turned into a punt-off, a skinny first-year wide receiver from Penn State set up the game-winning field goal and performed in the clutch when two Seahawks with his name couldn’t.
Deion Branch dropped a pass with 57 seconds left that could’ve sealed a victory. Safety Deon Grant, who is playing with a left hand injury that will require surgery at season’s end, couldn’t corral an interception with 34 seconds left. Deon Butler lost the ball temporarily, but he didn’t lose his cool.
He’s the Deon who wouldn’t let the game get away.
“I just looked it in, and everybody got real excited,” Butler said, grinning.
He’s a little guy, generously listed at 182 pounds. Earlier this season, a cashier guessed he was a high-school kid. He once asked big Walter Jones, in a naïve rookie voice, “You got drafted in the first round, right?” After Jones stopped looking “like he was about to smack me,” Butler told the veteran that, during Jones’ 1997 draft, “I was 11 years old, dog!”
Big Walt laughed and declined to break his little bones.
Coming into this game, Butler had seven receptions for a measly 64 yards. He barely played the previous two weeks. But this was his big chance.
The play wasn’t meant for him, either. The Seahawks put their three best wide receivers — Branch, Nate Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh — on the left side. Butler lined up on the right. They’d run this play earlier in the game and hit Houshmandzadeh for a short gain.
There’s an “alert” to this play, however. If the cornerback defending Butler is up on him in press coverage, and Hasselbeck thinks the safety isn’t going to help, then Butler is on alert to expect his quarterback to take a shot down the field. This scenario rarely plays out, however.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, listen, you’ll probably never get this ball. But be alert,’ ” Hasselbeck said.
But it was there, so Hasselbeck took the chance. Butler ran a streak route, beat San Francisco cornerback Keith Smith, caught the pass after his sight dilemma and stepped out of bounds.
Thirty-two-yard gain. It put the Seahawks at the 15-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in a tie game. They ran one more play, then Olindo Mare hit a 30-yard field goal to seal a 20-17 victory over the 49ers.
“In that situation, I was just hoping that [Hasselbeck] would come to me on that matchup,” Butler said. “It kind of looked lost for a second because I lost it in the lights, but it came back to me. I found it as soon as it came off the lights.”
He was the heroic Deon of the bunch. Don’t expect the rook to get too much adulation from his teammates, however.
“I got nothing for him,” joked Branch, who’s helped mentor the young receiver. “If anything, he owes me. I made my mistake, had my drop. I gave him an opportunity to make a play.”
Butler will take it. He has had to be patient this season. He came to Seattle as Penn State’s all-time leader in career receptions. He broke former Seahawk/Nittany Lion Bobby Engram’s record. He may one day be the next Engram for the Seahawks, but in 2009, he’s the fourth receiver on an offense that hasn’t spread the ball around like it once did.
It’s been a humbling experience. But Butler doesn’t have the panicked temperament of the average rookie.
“To be honest with you, he tells me to be patient, not the other way around,” said the ever-antsy Houshmandzadeh, who has a locker next to Butler. “I probably get more frustrated than he does. He’s not going to say much. As far as understanding patience, the roles might be reversed. He helps me a lot.”
Butler’s approach is simple. Stay prepared. Opportunities will arise. “And if it comes to you, you’ve gotta get it,” he said.
It came Sunday. And he got it.
After Branch’s drop, the Seahawks received a second chance. And Butler made a first impression.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer