The 6-foot-5 Matthews had four catches for 109 yards in the Super Bowl, the first receptions of his career, but he is taking nothing for granted in the crowded competition for Seahawks receiver.
In the maddening realm of “what ifs” that surround the ending of Super Bowl XLIX for the Seahawks, consider the fortunes of Chris Matthews.
He was ever so close to emerging as the folk hero of a potential Seahawks victory. Matthews had never even caught an NFL pass prior to the Super Bowl, but he caught four of them for 109 yards in Arizona, including an 11-yard touchdown from Russell Wilson that pulled Seattle into a halftime tie with New England.
But Matthews’ star turn was put into reverse with the ill-fated Malcolm Butler interception. No possible MVP trophy. No giddy appearance on The Tonight Show. No offseason of reaping the rewards of a breakout performance.
Not that Matthews is conceding any of that would have taken place, even if the Seahawks had won.
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “I’ve never been there. I never got it. Hopefully, we can get back there this year, and hopefully I can do it again and we’ll find out.”
Matthews arrived in Seahawks camp this year no longer covered by a shroud of anonymity. His physical tools had always been evident, particularly the 6-foot-5, 218-pound frame that matches the wide-receiver checklist every team seeks. Pete Carroll, in particular, has always coveted big receivers.
“Size is awesome,’’ said Dave Canales, the Seahawks’ new receivers coach. “Six-five is always open; that’s what I always tell him. As long as you get in the right position, that size, for sure, is an advantage. Everyone has to have something that helps them win, right?”
And now Matthews has a few new things. Like the confidence that comes from succeeding on the biggest stage, after struggling for several years to make his name. Undrafted in 2011 out of the University of Kentucky, Matthews was signed by the Cleveland Browns but cut after training camp. He hooked on with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL and had a big rookie year (81 catches for 1,192 yards) but was cut after an injury-riddled 2013 season.
Matthews was famously working two jobs (one at Foot Locker, one as a security guard; it would have been a good story for Jimmy Fallon) when the Seahawks called to offer a training-camp spot last year. He was cut at the end of camp but signed to the practice squad on Oct. 29.
Matthews finally was added to Seattle’s active roster on Dec. 6. One month later, he turned in one of the biggest plays of the season by grabbing the onside kick in the NFC title game that paved the way for the Seahawks’ stunning comeback win over Green Bay.
That was followed by the Super Bowl performance in which he unexpectedly became a go-to target of Wilson, catching passes of 44 and 45 yards.
“It meant a lot to me personally, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter,’’ Matthews said. “Because we didn’t win. It would have meant a whole lot more — I probably would have lost my mind if we had won.”
Instead, Matthews’ mind is now filled with the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in Seattle. Specifically, the level of effort and practice intensity he needs to show on a consistent basis to be able to carry it over into games. That helped inform his summer work regimen heading into what he knows will be an intense competition for a roster spot.
“I tried to take it to another level,’’ he said of his workouts. “I want them to notice me. I want them to keep noticing me when I’m out here.’’
That’s hard to avoid after the Super Bowl, in which the rapport between Wilson and Matthews was evident after the first catch.
“All of a sudden, I think once he threw it up there and (Matthews) caught it, then I think he came alive for Russell, because he’s an easy target to throw to,’’ Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He sees him, he’s got a great catch radius, so then I think a couple more balls were able to go his way.”
But Matthews knows that with several candidates for the five or possibly six wide-receiver spots, he can’t merely coast on his Super Bowl exploits.
“I don’t think it gave me any security at all,’’ he said. “When I get security is when I have 10 years in the game. Other than that, I’m going to treat every day like I’m fighting for my job.”
With his size, Matthews already offers an element that could be a tiebreaker in roster decisions. The fact that the Seahawks like him on special teams also should help. But Matthews must show in camp and exhibition games that he can use his size to shield defenders and make big plays.
His Super Bowl performance — which he has yet to watch in its entirety, by the way; “I’m always moving and trying to go forward and see new things,’’ Matthews explained — can be considered something of an audition tape.
“This is about a new time for Chris,’’ Canales said. “This is a great opportunity for him to be a consistent, dominant player we know he can be. He knows he’s got to earn it, and it’s not going to be given to him. But the cool part is, we have a window into what he can do, and we saw it on the biggest stage.”
Now Matthews hopes to turn this latest “what if” into reality.