Percy Harvin hints at impact to come in quiet Seahawks debut
SEATTLE -- Percy Harvin's Seahawks debut got off to an inauspicious start. The speedy wideout, who missed the first 10 games while rehabbing from hip surgery, took only one snap on the Seahawks' first offensive series and didn't touch the ball. On their second series he also took only one snap and didn't touch the ball. And on their third series he took two snaps but, yet again, didn't touch the ball.
Then came the flash of brilliance that Seattle fans had been waiting for since the team sent three draft choices, including a 2013 first-rounder, to the Vikings in an offseason trade for the explosive triple threat. Harvin lined up on the inside of a three-receiver set to the right, slipped past press coverage on a crossing route and, despite having cornerback Chris Cook in tight coverage, leaped and made a one-handed catch for 17 yards to extend a drive that would eventually end in a Seahawks touchdown.
Then with 48 seconds to go in the first half and the Seahawks leading his former team by only four, Harvin took a kickoff and returned it 58 yards to the Minnesota 46-yard yard line. Five plays later Russell Wilson found Doug Baldwin in the back right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard score that had the Seahawks well on their way to a 41-20 victory that wasn't as close the final margin.
Harvin, who after being acquired signed a potential $67 million extension that includes $25.5 million in guarantees, played only 16 snaps and finished with only the one catch and the one return. However there was no way to walk away without shaking your head at the possibilities he brings to an already talent-laden offense. He played on the wide side of formation, in the slot, in the backfield and as a returner. And though the statistics said his impact was minimal, nothing could be further from reality. Just his presence helped create opportunities for others. Consider:
• On his third series he lined up in the right slot on 2nd-and-7 and ran a skinny post. Safety Jamarca Sanford was so concerned about Harvin that he bit on the short route, opening a bigger window down the right sideline for Doug Baldwin, who beat cornerback Xavier Rhodes for a 44-yard gain. On the next play Harvin lined up wide right and ran a drag route to the left. That drew the attention of multiple defenders and helped to free Ricardo Lockette for a 27-yard reception. One play later Lynch scored from the 4.
• On his fourth series he lined up in the right slot and used his speed down the field to draw a pass-interference penalty on cornerback Josh Robinson that would've been good for 50 yards had tackle Russell Okung not been called for holding. Then on the next play he delivered a nice block on the outside to spring Lynch for a 23-yard gain. Three plays later he made the leaping one-handed grab, which led to Lynch's 1-yard touchdown run four plays later.
• On his fifth series he returned the kickoff 58 yards, then with the Vikings in a two-deep coverage, he drew the attention of safety Andrew Sendejo while running a deep seam/post route from the right slot, creating a larger opening for the touchdown throw to Baldwin.
Three possessions, three touchdowns, three instances of Harvin contributing without touching the ball.
"To have a guy like Percy, it kind of changes the game," said Wilson.
Added Baldwin: "He's got the elite speed, and anytime you look at him in the slot or maybe outside, the safety has got to cheat to his side in case he beats the guy at the line of scrimmage; because if he doesn't get there, there's nobody in this league that's going to catch up with Percy."
Teammates sensed a mix of eagerness and anxiousness in Harvin during the week. He had not participated in a game since injuring an ankle the previous November while playing against the Seahawks. In the months that followed he had an appendectomy -- during which a benign tumor was found on his appendix -- followed by hip surgery in August.
The Seahawks placed him on injured reserve with a designation to return, and after a brief setback two weeks ago he jogged out Sunday wearing green cleats, green gloves, eye block and a mask of unmistakable intensity. After Minnesota received the opening kickoff he stood at one end of the sideline or the other, staying far from the action and close to the portable heaters. When the Seahawks had the ball he grabbed his helmet and shadowed receivers coach Kippy Brown, waiting for an opportunity to take the field.
His first snap was a run call, his second ended with a sack of Wilson, his third was the 44-yard completion to Baldwin, and his fourth was the reception by Lockette. They finally called his number on his fifth play, but Okung was cited for holding. Wilson went back to him again later in the series for the 17-yard gain, but later said the Seahawks don't typically call specific plays for specific players, though they made an exception for Harvin on Sunday.
"We definitely had a few here and there, and we were able to call a couple of them," Wilson said. "But it's not one of those things where we say this ball is going to Percy no matter what. I just try to get the ball to the right guy at the right time."
Harvin couldn't stop smiling afterward. "There was a lot built into this game, other than just my hip," he said. "Emotionally, it was good to get out there and be with my teammates again. Hats off to the organization and all my teammates. They did a heck of a job of keeping me mentally into the game. ... It was perfect for me to come and not try to feel like I had to be a savior or had to do something out of the ordinary. I could simply rehab and the team kept winning, kept winning, and I was able to just come in and try to catch up on the bus."
Harvin definitely has the speed to catch up. He knows the offense from having played in it when he and coordinator Darrell Bevell were together in Minnesota. He also doesn't feel the pressure to have to carry the load. He can simply go out and be himself, a threat who in nine games last season caught 62 passes, rushed for 96 yards and averaged 35.9 yards per kick return.
"He's just a different type of player," said Baldwin. "He's not the Calvin Johnson type -- tall guy who's going to catch a fade in the back of the end zone. But if he gets the ball in his hands, it's like a different type of beastmode. He's so fast. Then he runs like a running back, bouncing off tackles. I don't know. That guy's amazing."
Baldwin smiled. If Harvin could have the type of impact he had Sunday in 16 plays, imagine what he can do when playing a full game.