Their ongoing scuffle extended into the Seattle sideline, where Seahawks’ second-year receiver DK Metcalf and Patriots’ star Stephon Gilmore had to be separated by teammates and coaches.
It wasn’t much of a fight. No punches — and no flags — were thrown.
But Metcalf did make a statement going head-to-head with the best cornerback in the NFL in the Seahawks’ 35-30 victory over New England on Sunday night.
Metcalf had four catches, on six targets, for 92 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown on a beautifully lofted pass from Russell Wilson in the second quarter — thrown just over the outstretched hand of Gilmore, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year.
“They were battling right from the get-go — duking it out right off the bat,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
Metcalf and Gilmore, jawing back and forth, had to be separated by a game official several times. Metcalf emphatically celebrated one first-down reception in front of Gilmore. On the next series, Gilmore laid a hard hit on Metcalf on a (rare) high throw from Wilson on the Patriots sideline.
Metcalf called it to the most physical matchup he’s had so far in his NFL career.
“I’m just blessed to be able to go against him. … It was a good opportunity for me,” Metcalf said. “It’s football — it’s a physical game. We were just going at it like two football players.”
Their back-and-forth peaked on a run play late in the first half, when Metcalf continued to aggressively block Gilmore away from the ball, pushing him all the way to the Seattle sideline. Gilmore tried to roll Metcalf onto the ground as they spilled into a mass of bodies huddled on the sideline.
“It was an illustration of two real frickin’ warriors that want to go at it,” Carroll said. “It was the game inside the game. They both knew all week (about the matchup) … and they were so hyped up and pushing and shoving right off the bat. We didn’t want DK to lose a chance to play by getting out of whack … and he didn’t back off for a second.”
The Patriots allowed just four touchdown receptions (four!) to wide receivers in all of 2019, and Gilmore didn’t allow any touchdowns (zero!) when he was the primary defensive back in coverage.
On Sunday night, Wilson’s first four touchdown passes were to wide receivers: Tyler Lockett, Metcalf, David Moore and Freddie Swain.
Metcalf’s touchdown reception was the first Gilmore allowed in coverage as the nearest defender over the last two seasons, according to ESPN’s Net Gen Stats. Since the start of the 2019 season, Gilmore had gone 104 targets without allowing a TD, the most in the NFL.
Throughout the week, Carroll said coaches and Seahawks defensive back made a concerted effort in practice to make things difficult on their own receivers — to prepare them for the kind of physical matchup they knew they would face against the Patriots’ secondary.
Metcalf, in particular, seemed especially feisty Sunday night in his premier matchup with Gilmore.
“DK played a great game,” Carroll said. “DK really competed. It was a great game for him to go against a guy like that. It’ll be significant for him going forward.”
Seahawks fans saw it during his rookie season last year, and the rest of NFL seems to be fully catching on now: Metcalf is a rising star, and at 6-feet-4 and 229 pounds — with 4.3-second speed — the perfect deep threat for the best deep passer in the NFL.
“DK was unbelievable,” Wilson said. “He came into week very focused. We spent so much time in the offseason together, quality time, hours upon hour … and it’s showing up for him and for us as a team.
“From the moment DK got here, he’s been passionate about the game. He’s tough as nails … and he wants to be the best in the world at what he does.”
As good as Metcalf was Sunday, the Seahawks again showed their depth in the passing game.
Eight different receivers had at least one catch from Wilson, whose five touchdown throws matched his career high. Lockett had a team-high seven catches for 67 yards, including his first touchdown reception of the season in the first quarter.
Moore had the most “improbable” catch of the day — and one of the most improbable in recent NFL history. Moore tiptoed along the left side of the end zone to haul in the pass under tight coverage while also getting both feet down as he hit the left pylon in the third quarter.
That play had a completion probability of 6.3%, making it the second-most improbable catch in the NFL the past two seasons, according to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats.
“We’ve got some of the best receivers in the game,” Wilson said, “and they need more respect at what they’ve been able to do over and over and over again.”