Even punters know anticipated Super Bowl rematches are kind of a big deal.
When Seattle defeated Denver, 43-8, to win that game in February, Jon Ryan was scarcely utilized. The Seahawks did not need him much — the Canadian got off one punt for 43 yards.
With the regular-season showdown at CenturyLink Field much closer Sunday — the Seahawks won a 26-20 overtime thriller — Ryan was a much bigger factor.
After averaging 50.2 yards on six punts — with five pinning the Broncos inside their own 20-yard line — you could argue Ryan was the game’s most valuable player. At least that is where Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s vote would have been cast.
“I thought Jon Ryan just had an incredible influence in this game throughout,” Carroll said. “He was banging the ball all day today.”
The punts on fourth downs facing a Denver rush spiraled high and deep. He had a 61-yarder on the team’s first series, and a 66-yarder later in the first quarter.
And in the second quarter, he showed off his precision, too, landing a 34-yard punt with backspin near the goal line that was downed at the Broncos’ 7.
With the game tightening up after the Seahawks gave up a safety early in the fourth quarter, Ryan gave it a little extra on the free kick.
His set punt sailed so high, it reached the same level where the organization’s four Hall-of-Famer jerseys hang from above the upper deck.
By the time it came down, it was caught at the goal line by returner Emmanuel Sanders — a distance of 79 yards.
“It was a good hit, I guess,” he said with a wry smile.
Now in his 11th season of professional football, including the past nine years in the NFL, Ryan isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He might be on the verge of his best season.
His best punting average of 46.6 came in 2011, which is a team record. After Sunday, his average ballooned to 48.3 through three games.
Ryan said he is coming off one of his best offseasons. At 32, he says he feels as strong as ever.
“I pride myself staying in shape and working a lot in the weight room,” Ryan said. “I am a shorter punter, so I’ve always relied more on strength than height and the long legs.
“(Today) was the really ... first time we’ve been backed up in fourth-down situation, and I kind of got to let the leg out a little bit. It was nice to finally show that after I’ve been working so hard all offseason.”