Tony Moeaki hadn’t played football since being cut by the Buffalo Bills in training camp. He was driving to his cousin’s rugby game in Chicago when he got a call from the Seattle Seahawks.
Moeaki had played two games the previous two years. He’s now playing a key role at tight end, both catching passes and blocking, for a team one game away from its second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
And he’s cherishing the opportunity.
“It’s a real blessing,” said Moeaki, a third-round pick in 2010 by the Kansas City Chiefs out of the University of Iowa. “They had such a great team when I got here, but just the past couple of months we’ve really just been playing for each other. It’s been really cool to be a part of.”
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Moeaki was signed in early November more for his run-blocking presence with the Seahawks because starter Zach Miller is out for the season after ankle surgery. But Moeaki is averaging 16.8 yards per catch and has emerged as a reliable safety blanket for quarterback Russell Wilson in the passing game, too —with each of his past four catches resulting in first downs.
The Bills waived him in training camp after agreeing to an injury settlement and he was rehabbing the hamstring injury while living in Chicago.
Moeaki said he had been cleared to play for about a week and began working out for a couple teams, including the Seahawks. He was driving to meet his cousin, who was preparing to play for the USA Eagles (the U.S. rugby national team) team that night against New Zealand when he got a call from Seattle.
“It was just really exciting to get that call,” said Moeaki, who has eight catches in seven games.
“Obviously, when I first got here I was a bit rusty, and I think the coaches kind of anticipated that. But as I started feeling better, I was just doing whatever I could to help the team, whether that was blocking or catching or anything. I just try to make the most of every opportunity.”
NEXT MAN UP
On the roster. Off the roster. Rookie wide receiver Kevin Norwood said it’s made for an up-and-down season in terms of his game-day opportunities. Same for fellow rookie Chris Matthews.
With the Seahawks losing receiver Paul Richardson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the divisional round win against the Carolina Panthers, it’s opened a chance for Norwood and Matthews.
“My first reaction was I was hurting for my boy P-Rich. I hate to see him go down like that near the end of the season and was praying for him,” Norwood said. “At the same time, I’ve been waiting for my opportunity, I’m going to try to do what I’m supposed to do.”
Both are preparing this week as if their numbers will be called with the NFC championship on the line Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
Sound farfetched? It shouldn’t. That’s just what Jermaine Kearse did with his 35-yard touchdown catch against the San Francisco 49ers last year to help seal the Seahawks’ second Super Bowl berth in franchise history.
“Jermaine is a testament,” Matthews said. “He fought and clawed his way all the way through and now he’s one of the focal pieces of our offense. … When my name is called, I need to step up and produce if I want to stay. That’s exactly what I need to do.”
Said Kearse: “They have the skills. They know the offense. I’ve seen them in preparation, I’ve seen them in practice and I’ve seen their skills. I have no doubt they will be able to go out there and make plays.”
Norwood had his best game since being drafted in the fourth round out of Alabama with two catches for 34 yards in a 20-6 win over the St. Louis Rams in the regular-season finale. But he didn’t make the game-day roster for the Seahawks’ divisional round win against the Carolina Panthers.
Matthews was playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League before the Seahawks signed him in February. They then cut him, signed him to the practice squad, released him from the practice squad, re-signed him, released him and, on Nov. 18, re-signed him again. He was activated off the practice squad Dec. 6 after linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was placed on the season-ending injured reserve.
Matthews is 6 feet, 5 inches. The Packers’ two starting cornerbacks are both 5-11.
“These guys have been patient with their opportunities and they work really, really hard and they’ve prepared really, really hard for this,” said Doug Baldwin, now the Seahawks most experienced receiver in his fourth year. “I’m excited about their futures. Obviously they’ve put the work in for it.”
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been linked to each of the three remaining coaching vacancies in the NFL – the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. But he said Thursday that there’s “nothing really to report” on where he’s interviewed or where he might land.
“I’ve had a great time going through the process. What a wonderful opportunity to get to talk to people,” Quinn said. “But I’m in a great situation. Now that we are back here, really the focus is back here on the game.”
Some teams with open positions already hired a coach even with four teams, including the Seahawks, still playing.
But asked if it’s disappointing that teams wouldn’t wait until the end of the playoffs to make a hire, allowing them to hire a coach such as Quinn from a Super Bowl contender, he dismissed it.
“Certainly not. And in fact, I’m so fortunate to be a part of this organization with this group of guys. I’m having a blast,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t say enough how fortunate I am to be with this group.”
DT Tony McDaniel (shoulder) returned to practice after not participating Wednesday. So did T Justin Britt (knee). Both were listed as full participants. … DT Michael Bennett and RB Marshawn Lynch were full participants after both were listed among “not injury related” designation — meaning they got the day off. … Moeaki (calf), S Jeron Johnson (elbow) and C Max Unger (ankle) were full participants for the second consecutive day.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677