Lakewood’s Sports Illustrated cover-boy star almost did it again.
With 1 minute, 14 seconds left and Seattle at the New England 38 down 28-24, Russell Wilson looked for the wide receiver with whom he’s shared a bond since their rookie minicamp of 2012 — when Jermaine Kearse was an undrafted backup just trying to make the Seahawks’ special teams and Wilson was a third-stringer drafted in the third round.
Wilson threw what essentially was a 50-50 jump ball down the right side to the well-covered Kearse. New England’s Malcolm Butler was right there to knock Kearse down as the ball arrived. But Kearse nimbly tapped the ball higher as he fell onto his back, then allowed it to rattle between his legs as if inside a pinball chute until he reached up and pulled it to his chest while prone.
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Suddenly, miraculously, the hero of Seattle’s NFC title game with his winning catch in overtime, had put the Seahawks at the Patriots 5 with 1:06 left.
“Just trying to make a play for the team,” said Kearse, who streak of four consecutive playoff games with a touchdown catch ended through no fault of his. “Russ gave me an opportunity. We always talk about maximizing our opportunities. That’s just what it came down to.
“I saw it the whole time. Yeah, it bobbled around a little bit.”
Marshawn Lynch ran to the 1 on the next play. But then Wilson’s final pass, to No. 3 wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, was intercepted by Butler with 20 seconds left.
“I mean, you got to finish the game. There was a lot of time left. Even with that play we had a chance. We just didn’t finish,” said Kearse, who finished his third year with three catches for 45 yards in the Super Bowl and a career-best 45 receptions as Seattle’s new No. 2 receiver this season.
“Obviously, we had a chance. But we didn’t execute. We called the play. What it comes down to is executing the play, and that’s not what we did.
“I am extremely proud of this team. We had a lot of ups and down during the season, just to get back here wasn’t easy.
“It’s going to be disappointing just out the whole offseason, to know how close we were. But you’ve got to learn from the experience and keep getting better.”
MIGHTY QUINN TO ATLANTA THIS WEEK?
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn deflected a question as to whether this was his final game with Seattle before the architect of the league’s top-ranked defense the last two seasons takes the head job with the Atlanta Falcons.
That announcement is expected this week, now that the Seahawks’ season is over.
“I’d like to make everything tonight about our guys,” Quinn said. “You see the guys in the locker room and you know they gave everything they had. You can’t ask for more than that as a coach.
“I’ve had a great time with coach (Pete) Carroll and all the things that he’s taught us,” Quinn said in as close as he came to a farewell. “All of us, we’re so connected with these guys.”
BENNETT GOES WILD, BUT AVRIL DINGED
Two of those guys were defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Quinn moved Bennett inside to tackle for much of the game, and he sped past New England’s rookie center Bryan Stork all night. Bennett had four quarterback hits. Avril’s speed off the other edge kept New England from totally focusing on Bennett.
At times Bennett controlled the line of scrimmage almost by himself, forcing Tom Brady into his first interception — in the first quarter he threw directly to Jeremy Lane — and drive-ending, rushed incompletions.
Bennett’s effectiveness waned late in the game after Avril got a concussion during an interception return by Bobby Wagner in the middle of the third quarter that set up Doug Baldwin’s touchdown catch for Seattle’s 24-14 lead. The Patriots then doubled Bennett more, and Brady rallied New England with two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
“That was a real factor,” Quinn said of losing Avril. “It’s such a factor when you put him and Mike together.
“That was big for us.”
Asked how he felt about the loss, Bennett barely contained himself.
“I don’t know what kind of question that is,” he said. “Obviously, it (hard) because you just saw your dreams go down the drain.”
Lane apparently fractured a bone in his lower left arm bracing himself as Patriots receiver Julian Edelman took his legs out on the sideline at the end of the nickel back’s interception in the first quarter. Lane did not return. … Once Lane went out Seattle went with Byron Maxwell inside on passing downs at nickel and second-year CB Tharold Simon outside. Brady targeted Simon three times on his first drive in there, leading to New England’s first touchdown in the first quarter. … Maxwell’s contract ended with this game. He is now an unrestricted free agent. … Wilson became the first quarterback to start two Super Bowls in his first three NFL seasons. The Seahawks can now begin negotiating with his agent on an extension of Wilson’s rookie contract that ends following the 2015 season. … General manager John Schneider embraced with his family outside the Seahawks’ locker room. … Former Seahawks safey Kenny Easley, in the team’s Ring of Honor back in Seattle for his excellence from 1981-87, stood as an honorary captain with the Seahawks’ game captains for the coin toss Sunday. … The Seahawks are staying the night in Phoenix before their charters begin flying home Monday.