Golden Tate made the biggest play of the game on Sunday for the Seattle Seahawks.
But it wasn’t one of his usual twisting, leaping catches between two defenders where he somehow comes down with the ball when he isn’t supposed to.
And it wasn’t one of his catch-and-run performances where he seems to be slathered in cooking grease and he slips past arm tackles and darts out of one-armed grabs – though he did have two of those in the game.
Tate’s tide-turning play was neither a catch nor a run. It was simply a dive on a loose ball that he saw bouncing on the turf of CenturyLink Field away from his teammate’s grasp.
The heads-up play secured the ball and retained possession, enabling the Seahawks’ 20-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams and furthering momentum heading into the playoffs next week.
“My favorite play of the day was Golden coming up with that fumble right there,” coach Pete Carroll said.
With the score tied at 13-all and less than 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks took over possession on their own 10-yard line and were eager to march on an extended drive that would give them the lead and leave St. Louis without enough time to answer.
On a second–and-2 play from the Seahawks’ own 18, Marshawn Lynch took the ball on a handoff up the middle. The same play had gained 8 yards on the previous down. But this time it resulted in near disaster. Lynch had the ball knocked from his arms by linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The ball hit the turf and started bouncing up the field. Tate, who was blocking on the play, saw the loose ball and made a dive for it while a mass of players from both teams piled on top of him.
“I saw it leave Marshawn’s hands and I just did whatever I could get that ball,” Tate said.
It may have seemed instinctual, but it was a learned reaction.
“We have drills that we practice every single week about turnovers and getting on the ball,” Tate said. “It was just like a day of practice – see the ball, get on it and cover it up.”
Of course it wasn’t quite that simple while hulking men tried to rip the ball from him in a swarming pile of bodies.
“I had my hands and arms around the ball the whole time,” Tate said. “But with those big old dudes trying to pull it away from me, it was tough. I didn’t know if it was our guys pulling on it or their guys pulling on it.”
Typically there is plenty going on inside a turnover scrum – not usually friendly – that isn’t seen by the referees or television cameras.
“It’s a dog pile – scratching, clawing, biting, poking,” Tate said.
But Tate wasn’t going to let the ball go until he handed it to a referee.
“I was hanging on to that thing like it was my life,” he said.
When Seattle was finally awarded possession, they had gained enough for a first down. Three plays later, facing a third-and-5, quarterback Russell Wilson was flushed from the pocket. As he often does, Wilson stayed upright, dodging two defenders. Tate saw Wilson scrambling and headed back upfield from his comeback route.
“Golden did a great job of extending the play,” Wilson said.
Wilson lofted a perfect pass to Tate, who made the catch and then broke two tackles before being dragged down after a 44-yard gain.
“We know at any moment he can run and throw on the run,” said Tate, who had three catches for a game-high 105 yards. “I think some of their guys thought he was going to run. I turned upfield and he made a perfect throw where no one could get it but me.”
Five plays later, Wilson’s scrambled into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown, giving the Seahawks the winning edge.
None of which would have happened if Tate hadn’t recovered the fumble early in the drive.
“For him to get in there and fight for the ball the way he did and pick up that fumble was huge for our team,” Wilson said. “That allowed us to continue the drive and continue our opportunity to win the game.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8483 @RyanDivish