Rookies in any professional sport almost inevitably experience a season-long excursion in peaks and valleys.
And as Sunday’s taut affair against Tampa Bay entered the fourth quarter, there wasn’t much to indicate that it would go down as the high water mark so far in the career of Seahawks first-year receiver DK Metcalf.
To that point, going against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, Metcalf had two receptions on four targets for 17 yards (though those stats don’t include a catch for a two-point conversion in the third quarter).
But when it mattered most, in a game in which Seattle was playing from behind most of the day, Metcalf was at his best.
As the Seahawks scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to pull out a 40-34 win Metcalf had four catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, fulfilling something of a premonition that quarterback Russell Wilson had earlier in the game.
“I told him ‘hey, be ready — you may help us win the game,’’’ Wilson said. “And sure enough he did. .. he was clutch.’’
The TD came on a 53-yard catch and run that put Seattle ahead 34-27 with 4:25 left.
Then, after the Bucs forced overtime, Metcalf then set up the winning score in overtime with a tumbling, having-his-facemask-grabbed 29-yard catch that took the ball to the Tampa Bay six, converting a dicey third-and-six. Earlier in the drive Metcalf had also drawn a penalty for illegal contact.
All three plays came when matched up rookie Jamel Dean, a rookie who had played just three defensive snaps before having to step in Sunday when Tampa Bay starting cornerback Carlton Davis III injured his hip in pre-game warmups.
But that was also the point —- when Seattle noticed that Metcalf was in favorable matchups Sunday, he was able to make the most of it, and at the most opportune of times, finishing with career highs of six catches and 123 yards.
“It was his best game he’s had,’’ said Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
Metcalf may make splash plays on the field, but he largely lets his actions do his talking off of it.
Asked about the TD, which came on a crossing route in which he beat Dean off the line and then burst into the open, he mostly credited that Tyler Lockett was getting double-teamed, leaving him in an advantageous matchup.
“I beat my man, Russ put it in a perfect spot again,’’ he said succinctly.
As for his final catch, Metcalf credited the play call of Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to note that Dean was playing off at the line. “So I just ran a double move,’’ Metcalf said. “Russ put it in a perfect spot. Hats off to Schotty for seeing that.’’
Carroll, though, was far more effusive about Metcalf’s fourth quarter/overtime output, recalling how Seattle was able to get him with the last pick of the second round after Metcalf fell, apparently in part due to questions about whether he had a varied of enough skill set to be effective in the NFL.
Specifically, Metcalf lined up exclusively on the left side of the field during his college career at Ole Miss, and ran a limited route tree, with Pro Football Focus determining that 71 percent of his yards came on go routes.
But Carroll points out that the team has increasingly lined up Metcalf in different spots as the season has progressed, and his TD Sunday came on a crossing pattern.
“He just continues to do things really well,’’ Carroll said. “People who doubted that he would be a good football player might wonder ‘is that just lucky?’ or whatever.
“He’s got the presence of mind. He’s a real competitor. He’s the real deal. We’ve been around enough young guys we know what they’re like when they come through the process. He’s not typical. He’s atypical. He’s well ahead of the curve in his smarts and awareness and savvy.’’
Metcalf’s best game came two days after the Seahawks claimed Josh Gordon off waivers.
If Gordon can quickly find even a hint of the form that saw him make 87 catches in 2014 for the Cleveland Browns then the Seahawks are going to present even that much more of a challenge for opposing secondaries with Lockett (career high 13 receptions for 152 yards Sunday) and Metcalf showing Sunday what a dynamic duo they are emerging to be,
But if the Seahawks may need a little time to figure out how to fit in Gordon, what became clear again Sunday is just what the team has in Metcalf.
“He’s going to be a big factor when we go down the stretch here,’’ Carroll said.