The Seahawks waited. Then, finally, got rewarded.
Through a shredded knee — his second one in three seasons dating back to college — through a shredded hamstring, and through a hidden regular season as their No. 4 wide receiver, the Seahawks waited for what they finally got from Paul Richardson.
Now, entering Seattle’s NFC divisional playoff game on Saturday at Atlanta, Richardson may be the most important 24-catch receiver in the NFL.
“He’s had a couple good weeks in a row,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “This is the kind of play we see from him in practice, so it’s not unfamiliar.”
It is a timely boost.
In his second career postseason game last weekend, the star-crossed wide receiver with as much injury history as speed showed why Seattle drafted him in the second round in 2014.
Richardson had three mind-boggling catches for 48 yards and the first touchdown, which got the Seahawks going in a 26-6 victory over Detroit in the wild card round of the NFC playoffs.
Richardson’s spark started Seattle (11-5-1) on the path to Saturday’s showdown against Atlanta (11-5) for a spot in the conference finals.
Richardson played 10 snaps and didn’t have a catch on Oct. 16 when the Seahawks beat the Falcons, 26-24, at CenturyLink Field.
He’s going to get more snaps — and almost certainly more catches — on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
For two years, instead of cutting him for simply not being able to stay on the field, the Seahawks stayed patient. Now Richardson is rising in prominence as Seattle is one win away from its third conference championship game in four years.
“They showed a lot of faith,” Richardson said this week about the Seahawks.
“They had a lot of options. I’m just happy that I can be a part of it. We are all called upon to step up.”
Richardson’s turn for stepping up came on Christmas Eve.
Tyler Lockett was cemented as the Seahawks’ No. 3 wide receiver, with Richardson No. 4, for the last two seasons. In fact, Lockett rose to No. 2 last month, pushing Jermaine Kearse to the third wide receiver.
Then Lockett broke his tibia and fibula making a catch at the goal line against Arizona. He’s on injured reserve and out for the season.
Into that void, Richardson stepped up and he is rewarding the Seahawks’ faith.
His first wowing catch against Detroit was his best — and perhaps the Seahawks’ best grab in many seasons.
On fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the second quarter of a scoreless game, Seattle needed a touchdown to erase memories of a regular season of lost opportunities near the goal line. Quarterback Russell Wilson looked for the guy who hasn’t been there in the last two postseasons.
The quarterback dropped back and paused an extra-long time to allow Richardson to break free from the left to right on a crossing pattern near the back line of the end zone. Wilson lofted a pass that would have been an easy touchdown — except Detroit safety Tavon Wilson reached from being beaten and behind and bearhugged Richardson before the ball arrived.
As the covering official threw the flag on Wilson for pass interference, Richardson reached to whatever he could hold. It was Wilson’s face mask. He grabbed that while pulling the ball into his body with his left arm only.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell told NBC television, which was broadcasting the game, that game officials told him that they should have called the face-mask foul on Richardson, which would have caused offsetting penalties and negated the score.
After the game, referee Brad Allen told The News Tribune in a pool report that neither he nor any member of the officiating crew that he knew of told Caldwell there should have been a penalty on Richardson.
So, does Richardson feel like he got away with a face mask?
Richardson paused for a moment that became uncomfortable.
“I feel like the ball was in the air, and I made a play on it,” he said, flatly.
Richardson said he didn’t know the play was coming to him, that he wasn’t the No. 1 option. But even with all Richardson’s injuries, Wilson knows the receiver well enough to know he was going to race beyond a safety across the back of the end zone one-on-one.
“When I looked up, I saw Russ waiting for me to get across the field. I got excited,” Richardson said.
Richardson said he “ had no idea” how spectacular his one-armed, falling catch was.
It was a national-highlight staple for days.
“All I knew was that it was a touchdown,” he said of his third career touchdown since the Seahawks drafted him in the second round out of Colorado in 2014. “By the time I saw it on the screen (CenturyLink Field’s video scoreboards) I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I caught it with one hand. That was NICE!’
“Then on ‘SportsCenter,’ it blew up.
“It was great, man. I’m just happy to spark so much energy and put points on the board and lead us to a win.
“To bring it in like that, that was crazy.”
Crazy has become what Seattle expects from Richardson, even in his limited time.
“Some of the plays were circus-like. But he has done that,” Carroll said. “So we’re really fired up for him. He’s been waiting a long while to help this team and feel significant about that impact. And he’s done that. So we’re looking forward to continue it.
“He’s having a blast. I know that.”
Speaking of blast, Richardson’s phone blew up following the win over the Lions.
“My phone,” he said with a chuckle, “it was a lot of support out of nowhere, to say the least.
“I was locked in on the ball. I saw the ball. I just knew I had to make a play. I knew from the snap. I was like, ‘I don’t care where this ball lands, where I have to go, I’m about to catch this ball.’
“I’m happy I came through. … It was good, because I was able to help us win. The first play was able to give us a spark.
“You saw the energy pick up. It was a good feeling.”
If he does it again Saturday in Atlanta, imagine the feeling. And his phone.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle