Asked recently to explain why the Seahawks are so confident, receiver Golden Tate included this simple phrase in his answer: “We’ve got playmakers.’’
That’s a somewhat elusive quality that often falls outside the boundaries of simply being fast, big and strong. Something you don’t know for sure about a team until the season begins and the games get tight.
But as Seattle has progressed to the NFC Championship Game Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, there is no doubting that when it has mattered most this season, the Seahawks have usually found a way to make the plays when they needed them.
A look at 10 plays that made the season, in order of importance:
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1 Sept. 29: Richard Sherman’s return of a Matt Schaub interception 58 yards for a touchdown at Houston.
What it meant: The Texans needed just one more first down to lock up a game they had dominated. But instead of running on third-and-four from the Seattle 40, Houston QB Schaub dropped back to pass, and under pressure from Kam Chancellor threw wildly in the flat to tight end Owen Daniels. Sherman picked it off and ran untouched 58 yards for a tying touchdown, and Seattle won in overtime, 23-20.
What they said: “It’s a high-risk, high-reward play. You have to jump in, and you might get beat over the top for a 20- or 30-yard gain if he gets the ball down there. But if you make the play, you might get a pick-six and change the game for your team.’’ — Sherman
2 Sept. 8: Earl Thomas’ forced fumble against Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams.
What it meant: In the season opener, the Panthers appeared headed to a potential go-ahead touchdown when Williams burst free for a 24-yard run inside the Seattle 10-yard line. But just as Richard Sherman came over to tackle Williams, Thomas punched the ball out of Williams’ hands, and Seattle’s Tony McDaniel recovered at the 8. Seattle ran out the rest of the 5:25 on the clock to preserve a 12-7 win. The victory was critical in securing home-field advantage for the playoffs.
What they said: “You could see the ball and when (running backs) are swinging it and you see a little brown, you just want to punch, and I punched and the ball came out and I just went crazy.” — Thomas
3 Oct. 28: Seahawks’ stop of St. Louis on fourth down from the 1-yard line as time ran out.
What it meant: In a game in which Seattle was pushed around much of the night — outgained 339 yards to 135 — the Seahawks made the play they needed in a 14-9 win, stopping a Kellen Clemens pass from the 1-yard line as time ran out. On the play, Seattle trusted in its defense, blitzing and forcing a hurried Clemens pass that was tightly covered by Brandon Browner.
What they said: “Man up, stand up. We wanted to bring pressure on the quarterback and we knew it would be up to us in the back end to cover them down.’’ — Sherman
4 Jan. 11: Doug Baldwin’s 24-yard catch from Russell Wilson against New Orleans.
What it meant: The completion came on third-and-three after the Saints had cut Seattle’s lead to 16-8 and led to a Marshawn Lynch 31-yard TD run that put the game away in an eventual 23-15 win. Of the two plays, though, the Baldwin catch was more critical.
What they said: “We got a great look and it was an incredibly perfect throw and a great job of making the catch. It’s a catch that Doug has made all year. He’s made those big catches on the sidelines, and it couldn’t have been more clutch.’’ — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
5 Nov. 3: Golden Tate’s 71-yard punt return against Tampa Bay.
What it meant: In a game in which Seattle fell behind 21-0 before rallying to beat the beleaguered Bucs, the biggest play might have been Tate’s punt return, which he took at his own 4. Seattle had to settle for a field goal to cut the lead to 24-17, but many later pointed to that play, late in the third quarter, as a key momentum switch in a game Seattle won 27-24 in overtime.
What they said: “That just kind of let you know that, we’re here, that we’re coming for this win. It was an incredible play.’’ — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
6 Dec. 2: Michael Bennett’s return of a Drew Brees fumble 22 yards for a touchdown against New Orleans.
What it meant: In a game as hotly anticipated as any in Seattle’s regular-season history, the Seahawk defense made the key play early as Cliff Avril forced a Brees fumble that Bennett plucked out of the air and returned for a touchdown. That made it 10-0 less than nine minutes into the game as the Seahawks rolled on Monday night, 34-7.
What they said: “Obviously, those are plays that swing games.’’ — Saints coach Sean Payton
7 Nov. 17: Percy Harvin’s 58-yard kickoff return to key a 41-20 win over Minnesota.
What it meant: Harvin’s long-anticipated Seattle debut proved worth the wait — for a day, anyway — as he sparked a 14-point second quarter that allowed the Seahawks to pull away from the Vikings. Included was his 58-yard return on the first kickoff he touched as a Seahawk, setting up a touchdown that made it 24-13 at halftime.
What they said: “I just wanted to stay calm and just play within the system and let the plays come to me.’’ — Harvin
8 Oct. 17: Russell Wilson’s falling-down toss to tight end Zach Miller against Arizona.
What it meant: In a game Seattle won 34-22, the Seahawks led just 17-13, facing third-and-three from the Arizona 48. Wilson got off a pass as he was being tackled by linebacker Daryl Washington, finding Miller for a 6-yard completion. The play, an illustration of Wilson’s ability to create something out of nothing, led to a touchdown that helped put the game away.
What they said: “I knew I wasn’t down. I just made a little shortstop flip to him.’’ — Wilson
9 Nov. 10: Jermaine Kearse’s 43-yard touchdown reception on a double-pass from Russell Wilson at Atlanta.
What it meant: A game Seattle won 33-10 was tight for much of the first half until the Seahawks pulled off a trick play. Wilson pitched the ball to Marshawn Lynch, who took a few steps and lateraled to Wilson, who hit a streaking Kearse, who caught the ball as he tumbled into the end zone
What they said: “It was done really well. It’s just a lot that happens in there. Marshawn has to start and sell the run and get it back to Russell, and he’s still got to throw it and Kearse makes a great catch. It was perfectly executed.” — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
10 Dec. 29: Malcolm Smith’s 37-yard interception return to help beat St. Louis.
What it meant: In a game Seattle had to win to take the NFC West and get home-field advantage, Smith helped the defense set an early tone with a pick-six less than six minutes into the game. The Seahawks won, 27-9. It was Smith’s second interception in two weeks. He had been tackled at the 3-yard line the week before against Arizona.
What they said: “The ball glanced out of the running back’s hands, quarterback threw it really high. I wasn’t going to be 3 yards away this time. So I had to get in.” — Smith