Seattle wide receiver Jermaine Kearse

Note: As the Seattle Seahawks start their 2017 season they will do so without veteran receiver Jermaine Kearse, who was traded to the New York Jets last week for defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. In the five seasons since his rookie campaign in 2012, Kearse has developed from being an undrafted free agent out of the University of Washington into one of the mainstays of the Seahawks receiving corps. Along the way he made several of the greatest and most memorable catches in Seahawks history—catches that none of us “Twelves” will ever forget. Presented here is my Goodbye Tribute to Jermaine Kearse: a personal Thank You for all the excitement and thrills he has provided us across the last 5 years…MA

A few days ago, when I heard the news that Jermaine Kearse had been traded to the New York Jets, it came as a bit of a shock. I knew that the Seahawks were supposedly trying to move him, but until the trade was announced I didn’t really think it would happen.  It was hard to consider that the team would part ways with the player who was arguably responsible for some of the greatest catches in team history, two of which led directly to Seattle’s 2013 and 2014 NFC Championships and Super Bowl appearances.

What I say here is not hyperbole. I have been a football fan my whole life, and a Seahawks fan since the team’s inception. I followed Hall of Famer Steve Largent through his whole career and have seen every receiver the team has had since he retired. There have been some great Seahawks receivers through that time. Players such as Brian Blades, Bobby Engram and Darryl Jackson, on up to Doug Baldwin today. Through all that time and all those receivers, however, not one of them has matched Kearse when it comes to big play catches in clutch, championship situations.

Of course, to make clutch, championship catches your team must first make the playoffs and get itself into championship situations; and prior to the arrival of Pete Carroll and John Schneider in 2010 such situations were few and far between for the Seahawks. Between them Carroll and Schneider built a championship team and then engineered it to stay that way, something exceedingly difficult to do in today’s NFL. In doing so they created the stage for Jermaine Kearse. Nevertheless, what Kearse has accomplished since making the team in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Washington is nothing short of remarkable. Many players tend to disappear in big games. The tendency to get tight and “choke” is a well chronicled phenomena in sports.

Not so for Kearse. He was undaunted by big moments and big games; and he elevated his game to them.

And so, as Jermaine Kearse closes the Seattle chapter of his career and moves on to the Jets, I thought I would publish as a “Thank You” tribute this summary of what I feel are three of his greatest catches as a Seahawk. The descriptions are all taken from blogs I wrote following the games the catches occurred in; and I hope they capture for you some of the drama and excitement of these plays and catches as they actually occurred.  Without further ado, here they are:

Jermaine Kearse Great Catch Number One:

NFC Championship Game vs. San Francisco 49ers

January 19, 2014 at CenturyLink Field

The Situation: On the last play of the 3rd quarter with the Seahawks trailing the 49ers 17-13, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was flagged for intentional grounding which gave Seattle 3rd down and “forever” (actually 22 yards) for a first down. On the first play of the 4th quarter Wilson hit tight end Zach Miller in the left flat and Miller broke it up field for a 15 yard gain, making up the yards lost on the grounding call. It was now 4th down and 7 yards to go at the 49ers 35 yard line. What happened next had to be seen to be believed:

“The Hawks were out of downs and a 52 or 53 yard field goal attempt was on the outer limits of Steven Hauschka’s range. Regardless, a field goal is what Pete Carroll initially called, but as the play clock was winding down he decided to re-think things. With Hauschka and the field goal unit on the field just standing there and everyone in the stadium wondering what was happening, Carroll let the time run down and at the last second called a time out. On the sidelines he met with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Russell Wilson and discussed their options. With Wilson lobbying to spurn the field goal and go for it, Carroll ultimately agreed. The field goal was too risky. With a first down Seattle could continue the drive;  possibly get a TD and take control of the game. To this Wilson would add a twist.

“Hauschka and the field goal unit were called back to the sideline and Wilson and the offense returned to the field. When the Seattle quarterback got to the huddle he told the team that he would use a double count, in other words call the signals twice instead of once, with the center not snapping the ball until the second sequence. By emphasizing the first set of signals with his voice (known in football as a ‘hard count’) Wilson hoped to cause the 49ers to jump off sides and incur a penalty. Should that occur the Hawks offense would then have a ‘free play’, meaning they could take a chance with a throw to the end zone.  If the pass was intercepted or incomplete it wouldn’t matter because Seattle could always take the off sides penalty of 5 yards which would then nullify the play just run and give them a 4th and 2 at the 30; a better situation than they had now. So, in the huddle Wilson instructed his receivers, if the 49ers did jump off sides, to alter their called pass routes and instead run vertical routes to the end zone.

Jermaine Kearse’s scoring catch vs. 49ers

“The Seahawks broke huddle and came to the line of scrimmage at the 35 yard line for the coming play. None of us ‘Twelves’ viewing on TV or from the stands could have known it, but the game was about to take a dramatic turn.  Wilson took his position in the shotgun with 3 receivers, Baldwin, Kearse and Tate to his right in what is called a “trips” (short for triple) formation, and started barking the signals. Emphasizing hard the first count, exactly as Wilson had hoped, the 49ers Aldon Smith anticipated the snap and jumped into the neutral zone. With the ball being snapped on the second count, Smith was trapped off sides and the Seahawks had their penalty. Observing this, all 3 Hawks receivers raced up field towards the end zone while Wilson retreated to pass. With all 3 tightly covered Wilson took aim at the middle receiver, Jermaine Kearse, and lofted a beautiful pass toward the goal line. At his end Kearse had gotten the slightest of steps on his defender Carlos Rogers, but had the advantage of having Rogers at his back and screened from the ball. As Jermaine crossed the goal line he jumped in the air and, with Wilson’s pass hitting him squarely in the chest, the Hawks receiver clutched it and landed in the end zone for a touchdown.  Another seismic outburst erupted from “The Clink” and the Hawks took their first lead of the game—a lead they would never surrender.”

Jermaine Kearse Great Catch Number Two:

NFC Championship Game vs. Green Bay Packers

January 18, 2015 at CenturyLink Field

The Situation: After a stirring comeback from a 16-0 deficit made possible by a series of remarkable plays, including a touchdown pass on a fake field goal and the successful recovery of an on-sides kick with just over two minutes left in regulation, the Seahawks and the Packers were headed into overtime to determine the NFC Championship. To that point in the game it had been an incredibly frustrating day for both both Russell Wilson and Jermaine Kearse. Four times the Hawks quarterback had targeted Kearse during the game, and all four times he was intercepted by the Packers, in the process digging a nearly impossible hole for Seattle. The Seahawks won the coin toss to start the overtime period and after receiving the kickoff, largely due to a Wilson-Baldwin 35 yard completion on 3rd down, had moved the ball to the Green Bay 35 with a first down. What happened next is one of the most exciting and emotional moments in Seahawks history:  

Doug Baldwin’s reception gave the Seahawks a 1st down and set the stage for what would be the most unbelievable moment of this most unbelievable of games. During the break before the overtime period started Russell Wilson had commented to Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel that at some point in the overtime he would check off (change the called play) at the line of scrimmage and throw a touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse to win the game. I have no way of knowing what Bevel thought of Wilson’s prediction, but, considering the day Wilson and Kearse had experienced to that point, he could be forgiven if he thought it was a stretch. (As noted earlier, all 4 of Wilson’s interceptions had come on throws to Kearse.) But…all of that was about to change.

“This time when Wilson came to the line of scrimmage he found himself staring at a Packers ‘cover zero’ defensive alignment. In ‘cover zero’ both safeties are brought much closer to the line of scrimmage, usually linebacker depth or closer. It is used in blitz situations or to help stop the run on obvious running plays. In such instances you can get an appreciation of what Marshawn Lynch means to the Seahawks. The Seattle running back had been killing the Packers with over 150 yards rushing to that point; and with 1st down at the Packers 35 being a clear running down, likely the Packers were gearing up to stop him. With that understood, the liability of ‘cover zero’ is that it leaves the cornerbacks in one on one coverage against the pass receivers of the offense, and should they get beat they have no help from the safeties, as they simply aren’t there.

“Seeing the Packers ‘cover zero’, Russell Wilson must have known that his prediction to Darrell Bevel was about to become reality. While calling the signals from the shotgun, he ‘checked off’ (changed the play) to a pass play to Jermaine Kearse, who was split wide to the right side of the formation. Upon the snap of the ball Kearse took off up field, running a pattern known in football as a ‘skinny post’ a route that is almost vertical but angles slightly toward the center of the field as the receiver progresses up the field. Almost immediately Kearse succeeded in establishing inside position on Tramon Williams, the Packers defensive back covering him, as he raced up field; vital because to the inside, with the safeties gone, Williams had no help. All Wilson had to do was throw the ball to the inside and let Kearse go get it; which, with another perfect, spiraling deep ball to the goal line, is exactly what he did.

“After the game Jermaine Kearse commented that he wished all of the passes thrown to him on this most unbelievable of days were as easy to catch as this one. As he was crossing the goal line, with Williams in tight coverage and literally draped over his back, the Seattle receiver simply reached up and plucked the ball from the sky. A moment later, clutching the ball to his chest, he and Williams tumbled into the end zone, and this NFC Championship game was over. Improbably, impossibly, and unbelievably…the Seahawks had defeated the Green Bay Packers 28-22 to advance to the Super Bowl for a second consecutive season.

Kearse reaches for glory vs. Packers

With his redemption at hand, for Jermaine Kearse had struggled epically in this contest prior to his game winning catch, the Seattle receiver leaped to his feet and let all of his pent-up emotion and frustration out; taking the football and throwing it wildly into the stands as Seahawks players, coaches, ball boys and fans mobbed him outside the end zone. For both he and Russell Wilson the moments immediately following this game were cathartic, with tears flowing freely from both men. In his interview with Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews (you remember her don’t you?) almost immediately after the game Wilson struggled to put what had just happened into some kind of perspective. As with Richard Sherman the year before, Andrews got to Wilson before the raw emotion of the game had receded. Amidst his tears about all he could do was thank God for putting him in this position; and talk about what an honor it was to be playing for this team, and the mutually shared belief and trust they had in one another.

“Wilson’s words to Andrews spoke volumes for all the Seahawks …but especially for Jermaine Kearse. Throughout all the adversity and disappointment he experienced in this game, the Seahawks receiver never stopped believing; and in the end he made the most important catch of the season.”

Jermaine Kearse Great Catch Number Three:

Super Bowl XLIX vs. New England Patriots

February 1, 2015 at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

The Situation: With one minute and 14 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX the Seahawks were trailing the Patriots by a score of 28-24 and had the ball with first and ten at the New England 38 yard line. Seattle had taken a 10 point lead into the 4th quarter of the game but had seen that lead erased by two Tom Brady touchdown passes.  Now, however, the Seahawks were driving, and the stage was set for one of the greatest catches in Seahawks and Super Bowl history:

“With the seconds ticking away Wilson quickly called another play without a huddle. He took the snap in the shotgun, retreated a few steps back in the pocket and then lofted another spiraling rainbow down the right side of the field towards Jermaine Kearse about 30 yards away.  Covering Kearse on the play was, you guessed it, Malcom Butler, the Patriots rookie cornerback who a few moments later would become the hero of this game with that climactic interception in the end zone. For now, however, both Butler and the Patriots were about to experience for themselves a healthy dose of Seahawks and Jermaine Kearse magic.

“As Wilson’s pass dropped towards him Kearse had a step on Butler, and a perfect throw from the Seahawks quarterback could have been a touchdown right there. Instead the pass was a bit underthrown, which forced Kearse to come back for it slightly, and allowed Butler to stretch and get a gloved hand right between Kearse’s two hands as he reached for the ball. As a result the ball deflected off Kearse’s hands and up into the air as both players fell backwards to the ground at about the 6 yard line. Meanwhile the ball started its descent directly towards Kearse, who was lying on his back with his feet in the air. With Butler off to the side and out of the play, the ball came down and hit Kearse in the left leg, deflected to his right, and then, as Patriots safety Duron Harmon came flying across above him, hit Kearse’s right hand, then deflected up again, then once again off Kearse’s right hand, whereupon Jermaine at last secured the ball as he spun around on his butt towards the end zone.

Kearse’s amazing catch in Super Bowl XLIX

“It was an impossible catch, and at that point Kearse was about the only person in the stadium who knew that he had made it. The referees seemed to be mesmerized for a second, as was NBC broadcaster Al Michaels, who calmly announced that Butler had broken up the pass. Meanwhile Kearse, who knew he had not yet been tackled, got up and started to move towards the end zone. From what I could see on my TV screen I thought the pass was incomplete as well, but it seemed incongruous to then see Kearse making a football move towards the goal line. It was when I saw Butler get up and move to knock Kearse out of bounds at the 5 yard line that I realized that the Seattle receiver must have somehow caught the ball; and it wasn’t until the replays started showing on TV a few seconds later that it finally seemed that the NBC announcers, Michaels and Chris Collinsworth, at last understood what had happened. The TV image of Seahawks owner Paul Allen staring at the playing field, mouth agape in wonder as he finally registered what had just taken place, was duplicated by every ‘Twelve’ and most football fans, either present at the stadium or watching on TV.

“Kearse’s magical catch was good for 33 yards and the Hawks now had the ball with a first and goal at the Patriots 5 yard line. With a back like Marshawn Lynch it seemed inevitable that Seattle would punch in the game winning score for their second consecutive Super Bowl championship. Alas, in this game fate was not yet through with the Seahawks.”

_________________

OK you “Twelves” out there, in the above you have what I believe are 3 of the greatest catches in Seahawks history—all by the same player—Jermaine Kearse. As he and we turn the page on what has been to this point a most remarkable career, I could think of no more fitting “Goodbye” to him than re-living these three magical moments.

I hope you all feel the same.

Copyright © 2017

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

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2 Responses to Saying Goodbye to Jermaine Kearse–by Mark Arnold

  1. Valerie Allen says:

    Thank you Mark!!! I just love the way you write football! The one thing I really am missing being in Africa is my beloved Seahawks! Go HAWKS! Great article, thank you for letting me relive those beautiful catches!!!

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks for the nice comment Val! And you are welcome. The Hawks are off to kind of a slow start, so we will see what happens. Kearse definitely was a “big play” guy and we will miss him. Go Hawks!!

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