By Jim Moore
They will be overlooked again in the Super Bowl, and that's fine with Doug Baldwin, the Seahawk with a self-proclaimed boulder on his shoulder.
Forget the chip. He's upset with the ongoing perception that the Seahawks have an average receiving corps.
It started with a USA Today story several weeks ago and continued last week when NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin called the Seahawks' receivers the weakest link on the team. Then Baldwin heard comments from ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter, who said Seattle's receivers were appetizers for the main course of Marshawn Lynch.
"They were talking about how Russell Wilson was struggling, and the reason he was struggling is because the receiving corps, they're appetizers," Baldwin said. "I'll take that. I'll be an appetizer. But that's a good-ass appetizer if you ask me."
Baldwin had his best game of the season as the Seahawks won the NFC title with a 23-17 victory over the 49ers at CenturyLink Field. In seven targets, he had six catches for 106 yards, including a 51-yarder that led to the Seahawks' first three points.
Golden Tate also had four catches for 31 yards, and Jermaine Kearse was on the receiving end of a 35-yard pass from Wilson that gave the Seahawks a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"It irritates the hell out of me when you have guys that constantly want to talk about our receiving corps," Baldwin said. "Talking about how we're average, how we're pedestrian. Well, we're going to walk our ass to the Super Bowl.
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"The thing that inspired me the most is that we know in this offense, we're not going to get as many opportunities as we would if we were in a huge passing offense. But we also know that when we get our opportunities in the passing game, we have to make the best of them. You saw that tonight, and you've seen that all season long."
Take Kearse for example. Wilson talked about the former Husky in training camp after they worked out together in Los Angeles.
"I said at the beginning of the year that Jermaine Kearse is one of those guys I knew was going to have an outstanding year," Wilson said. "He's worked so hard. He's tremendous on special teams. He's tremendous catching the football. He's got great hands, and he's got that desire. That showed up tonight."
On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Seahawks faced a fourth-and-6 at the 49ers' 35-yard line, trailing 17-13. Coach Pete Carroll thought a 52-yard attempt by Steven Hauschka might be pushing it. But he didn't want to punt, and instead opted to go for it.
Wilson went with a hard count, hoping to draw the 49ers offsides – and it worked. As soon as Wilson and the receivers saw the flags, that caused a play change with Tate, Baldwin and Kearse running vertical routes toward the end zone.
"We practice that stuff all the time," Wilson said. "That was one of the biggest plays of the game. I tried to look off the safety as long as possible and give him a one-on-one shot, and he came down with an unbelievable catch."
Kearse had a similar take, saying: "When we drew the offside, we got the flag so we got the free play and took a shot."
For the most part the Seahawks relied on Lynch, who rushed for 109 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 10-10 in the third quarter.
That will be the focal point again in the Super Bowl. "Beast Mode" will churn out four-word quotes and four-yard runs. Baldwin, Tate and Kearse will be negatively compared to the Broncos' star-studded receiving crew of Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.
That's what they hope will happen. Overlook them. Ignore them. Fuel their fire, as Baldwin says. Then watch out. Explosive plays from the Seahawks' maligned receivers could be the difference in the Super Bowl.