Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, aided by quarterback Russell Wilson, goes from zero to hero, helping send his team to a second straight Super Bowl.
By Kevin Buckles Jr., Editor in Chief
It was as if the Seattle Seahawks had been cursed.
With three minutes remaining in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game vs. the Green Bay Packers, the Seahawks found themselves on the brink of elimination trailing 19-7.
The reigning Super Bowl champs were on their way to losing only their third home game in a three-year span—25-2 at Century Link Stadium since 2012, including playoffs—in an atrocious fashion.
Russell Wilson, who had only thrown three interceptions in a game once in his career—vs. the St. Louis Rams in his rookie season—threw three of his career-high four interceptions in the first two quarters alone vs. the Packers, en route to a zero passer rating for the half.
Everything was going wrong for the young quarterback that had been a huge part in aiding the team’s rapid ascension to the NFL’s elite.
And then there was Jermaine Kearse.
The third-year wide receiver out of the University of Washington seemed to define his last name throughout the game, as the first four passes that were thrown his way all ended up being intercepted by the Packers—two of which deflected through Kearse’s hands.
The first interception came just five minutes into the game on a simple quick slant on a 3rd and 7 play; Kearse was able to beat cornerback Tramon Williams to the inside fairly easy. However, Williams recovered quickly and was able to disrupt the completion, causing the ball to deflect off Kearse’s hands and into those of Packers rookie safety HaHa Clinton-Dix for the easy interception.
Both the second and third interceptions came in the 2nd quarter, as Russell Wilson simply made two poor decisions attempting to complete potential game-changing passes to Kearse; the second interception would have resulted in a 40-plus yard play had it been completed, and the third interception, a critical touchdown.
The fourth, and what many thought was the game-sealing interception, was nearly a carbon copy of the first. With just five minutes remaining in regulation, the Seahawks were at their own 46-yard line on 1st and 10 when Wilson tried to feed Kearse on a 15-yard crossing route over the middle; the result was the same as the ball ricocheted off of Kearse and into the hands of Packers safety Morgan Burnett.
Alhough Kearse was as sure-handed as it gets during the regular season, posting the second-lowest drop percentage of any Seahawk with 2.9% according to SportingCharts.com, he also had the lowest percentage of targeted passes caught among Seahawk receivers with at least 15 targets, which could help tell the story of his bizarre game Sunday.
Kearse himself was inevitably bewildered.
“Four interceptions when the ball was thrown my way,” Kearse told ESPN.com. “I was like ‘What is going on?’ But I never really felt sorry for myself. It’s a tough game and you’ve got to be mentally tough and learn how to push through it …when things aren’t good, it really tests your character.”
While Kearse’s character was tested throughout the game, it was Wilson who proved to be a blessing to his teammates amidst the team’s struggles, constantly uplifting, and boosting their moral.
“Throughout the game, he kept coming up to us and being positive,” Kearse spoke of Wilson. “He said ‘We’re gonna win this game. There’s no doubt in my mind and I’m going to keep coming to you guys. I’m going to stay aggressive.’ Things weren’t going well for the offense, but he led us back.”
Wilson kept his word, indeed.
After the Seahawk defense forced a quick three-and-out with around four minutes left in regulation, Wilson led a seven-play, 69-yard drive down the field capped by his 1-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 19-14.
Following a miraculous onside-kick recovery, Seattle suddenly found themselves in a prime position to take their first lead of the game with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and one timeout at their disposal.
And like déjà vu, Wilson marched his offense 50 yards down the field in just 44 seconds to take a 22-19 lead—after converting a two-point conversion—with a minute and 26 seconds left until a NFC Champion would be crowned.
It was then that Wilson knew that he and his team were on the brink of something special.
“Between the onside kick, the fake field goal and the two-point conversion, it was like destiny today,” Wilson told ESPN.com.
Before destiny could be fulfilled for the Seahawks however, the Packers field goal with under 20 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 22, subsequently forcing overtime.
Despite there wasn’t quite a Matt Hasselbeck-esque type of confidence on display in overtime a la the 2004 Packers/Seahawks Wild Card playoff game, it was clear that Russell Wilson was ready.
So was Jermaine Kearse.
After two completions to wide receiver Doug Baldwin that quickly put the Seahawks in Green Bay territory, Wilson launched a 35-yard bomb to a streaking Kearse in one-on-one coverage into the endzone for the game-winning score.
“I knew if I could just beat my man, Russ would give me the opportunity,” said Kearse. “That play was installed this week and Russ threw a great pass.”
Preparation met opportunity, as the final play Seattle ran was one that the offense had long been ready for, according to Wilson.
“We practiced that all week,” said Wilson. “I just had a feeling and sensed we would have that chance.”
Jermaine Kearse might have been slightly more prepared than most though, as he is no stranger to making 35-yard, game-clinching catches in NFC Championship games.
Just 364 days prior to Sunday’s game against the Packers, the Seahawks were hosting their archrival San Francisco 49ers for the NFC title game.
With the Seahawks trailing 17-13 late early in the 4th quarter, they decided to gamble on a 4th down and seven in 49ers territory; it paid off with interest as Kearse came down with an eerily similar touchdown grab as the one he made Sunday, to give his team the lead.
The Seahawks would never trail again in that game en route to winning their second NFC championship in their franchise’s history, and defeating the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl just two weeks later. Ironically enough, it was Kearse who had the most remarkable touchdown in that game, bouncing off five tacklers and into the endzone on a 23-yard score in the 3rd quarter.
Kearse will now look to carry over the big-time playoff success he has had into his team’s upcoming Super Bowl match-up vs. the New England Patriots.
When asked by Seahawks.com if he regretted throwing the football he caught to win the game vs. Green Bay into the crowd, Kearse responded: “It’s just something that happened it the moment. I’ve got a Super Bowl ball, so I’m happy with that,” Kearse told the website.
“And I’m going to try to get another one.”
Perhaps it should not be ruled out that he will indeed earn another touchdown ball in the big game.
After all, the Seahawks seem to be Kearse’d.