A year ago against the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks were struggling a good bit on offense. Russell Wilson, who has made quite the name for himself since making Matt Flynn the league's luckiest clipboard holder in 2012, was dazed and confused. The Niners' defense honed in on his timing. It corralled Marshawn Lynch, the engine that kept the 'Hawks humming along when its own stellar defense was on the sideline. Colin Kaepernick had success taking it upon himself to go toe-to-toe with the Legion of Boom.
In the second half, the tide began to shift starting with the Seahawks’ defense holding the 49ers to a field goal to start the third quarter and a brilliant series for Lynch bringing the score to 10-9. Momentum, or whatever you wish to call it, could have gone either way as San Francisco responded with a touchdown of their own.
Though most look to the game’s infamous end - Richard Sherman’s pass deflection which lead to The Rant - and the improved play of Wilson as the definitive reasons for the comeback win, that fleeting “mo” had shifted to Seattle right after the Niners’ last touchdown. On the ensuing 67-yard kick from Phil Dawson, Doug Baldwin nearly took it to the house with a 69-yard return, shortening the field for a field goal. It was one of eight plays on Seahawks' scoring drives by the team's leading receiver and kick returner that for some bizarre reason, have gone unnoticed. Three plays where he touched the ball led to a field goal in the 2nd quarter; a 24-yard kick return, a 7-yard pass that was followed by a Golden Tate first down two plays later, and a 51-yard strike that pushed the ‘Hawks into the red zone for said field goal. Later in the go-ahead drive starting at the end of the third quarter, a key 13-yard reception not only provided a first down, but put Seattle in 49ers territory, leading to the great 35-yard touchdown pass by Wilson to Jermaine Kearse to begin the fourth quarter.
For the game, Baldwin had 215 all-purpose yards thanks to six catches for 106 and three returns for 109. Of that yardage, 161 of them (78.9%) were accounted for in three Seahawks’ scoring drives.
Fast forward 364 days later to Sunday afternoon where the Green Bay Packers made Wilson look like he never took a snap before. More interceptions than completions, collapsed pockets and injuries among the team's tight ends were punches to the gut of the overwhelming favorite leading into halftime. (In absolute fairness, Wilson probably should have been checked for a concussion after this hit from Clay Matthews.)
The second half in 2015 had the same formula as in 2014. Once again, Lynch was a monster and started off the comeback with runs that were almost impersonations of Jim Brown. Wilson began to move a little better after halftime. The Packers secondary decided that playing well for a full game was for the birds (pun somewhat intended.)
However, once again, a great playoff performance by Baldwin had predictably went overlooked not only by our broadcasters, but the wire service/sports bar we call social media. Baldwin had another strong all-around game with 164 total yards thanks to six catches for 106 yards and three kick returns for 58 yards. Of Baldwin’s total yards, 116 (70.7%) were accounted for in three of Seattle’s four touchdown drives with three receptions of 20 or more yards; two of those came in the final drive in overtime. In the third quarter, Baldwin caught what was the easiest pass of the year where despite eight Green Bay defenders against five Seattle receivers, he found a space in the defense about as wide as the Pacific coastline. That reception lead to the ‘Hawks first and craftiest score of the day; the fake field goal where placeholder Jon Ryan found Garry Gilliam for the always great offensive lineman touchdown catch.
Baldwin was Seattle's leading receiver this season with a career-high 825 yards (51.6 yards per game, three touchdowns.) That paltry total placed him at 42nd among all eligible receivers (tight ends and running backs included.) If he was a bit more explosive and chatty as Steve Smith or as insanely quick as an in-prime Wes Welker, perhaps the undrafted 5’10”,189 lb. wideout from Stanford would be looked upon with similar reverence as his equally short-for-a-WR peers. It would have also helped if he actually had at least one season of 1,000 yards receiving in his career, even on a team that’s heavily reliant on its rushing attack of Lynch and Wilson.
Yet, in seven career playoff games (five as a starter), Baldwin has 25 catches (on 36 targets) and 391 receiving yards. In last year's run, Wilson targeted Baldwin fifteen times and only twice did they not connect. In two games this postseason,they didn't connect on just four of thirteen targets. In three of the playoff games where he returned kicks, he has 579 return yards and averaged 26.9 yards per return.
When these numbers are placed in the context of these last three years for the Seahawks, you should begin to understand how critical he has been to the team’s success in the face of adversity, especially when self-inflicted such as his fumbled kickoff in the first quarter - just the second of his entire career - and dropped pass in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.
While playcalling by both the Niners and Packers grew suspect as their games wore on, the comebacks were made with the rejuvenated play of their quarterback and offensive line, a running back who looked like Earl Campbell, outstanding special teams play and the usual excellence of the league's top defense.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports spoke about Baldwin's post-game comments where the receiver answered criticism that may or may not be accurate from the champs’ 3-3 start. In lamenting the early season dismissal of their repeat chances, Robinson said that it was Wilson, more than the rest of the Seahawks, that was disrespected. It is funny to read that, not just by considering that Seattle was favored and almost blew it, but observing how loud the debates of Wilson's place among the top quarterbacks have become. If Wilson is disrespected, at least it means he has been noticed.
In the effusive praise of a quarterback that “finds a way to win” despite his worst performances, there’s that overlooked, but steady presence of his favorite receiver when he needs to “make a play,” “find a spark,” and all of those other cliches often evoked when discussing how “elite” a player is. Despite great postseason runs that have led to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances as well as crafty, heads up play that make his team’s gambles pay off, Doug Baldwin is ignored once more. That's pretty disrespectful in itself.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.