SEATTLE, WA - Mirroring the misfortunes befallen on his team, Seahawks receiver receiver Dee Eskridge has endured a tumultuous rookie campaign in every sense.
But with Seattle trailing San Francisco by nine points with just 1:42 remaining in the second quarter of Sunday's NFC West rematch, the former Western Michigan star picked the perfect time to throw a coming out party in front of the 12s.
Starting their sixth possession from their own 35-yard line, aided by a roughing the passer call against defensive end Arden Key, the Seahawks drove to the 49ers 26-yard line and faced a 3rd and 2 situation. With the clock ticking under 35 seconds, quarterback Russell Wilson urgently took the snap and fired a strike to Eskridge, who came open running a route into the flats from the left slot.
After making the catch, cornerback Josh Norman looked to have Eskridge dead to right inbounds, which would have kept the clock running. But leaning on his past running back background, the first-year wideout slipped through an arm tackle and wisely got out of bounds, setting Seattle up with 1st and 10 at the 49ers 15-yard line with 26 seconds left to work with.
“We were all in two minute mode, so obviously catch the ball, get as much as you can, get out of bounds and stop the clock so that I don’t get tackled in bounds and the clock keeps going. So, I just did my job and it worked out," Eskridge said.
Following another roughing the passer penalty on San Francisco, Seattle received another free set of downs at the opposing seven-yard line, but time was becoming a real factor. With just 18 seconds left, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron had a limited playbook at his disposal with the middle of the field no longer an option.
Working out of shotgun in a trips right set, Wilson quickly scanned the defense, took the snap from center Ethan Pocic, and executed a three-step drop. Initially, he looked for star receiver DK Metcalf, who was well-covered on a 10-yard hitch route in the end zone, before being forced to step up in the pocket with pressure caving on him from multiple defenders.
Keeping his eyes downfield while shuffling upward in the pocket, Wilson promptly fired a dart off platform to Eskridge, who ran a five-yard curl as the outside receiver to the trips side. Just like his earlier catch, the 49ers had a chance to wrap him up quickly, which would have forced the Seahawks to scramble to the line and attempt to spike the ball before the clock expired.
However, with just two yards separating him from his first career NFL touchdown, Eskridge wasn't about to be denied. Putting his ability to create after the catch on display once again, he slipped through fellow rookie Deommodore Lenoir's tackle attempt and dove past the goal line for a momentum-changing score to trim the deficit to two points before halftime, eventually helping the Seahawks secure a badly-needed 30-23 victory over their rivals.
"It felt amazing," an emotional Eskridge said of his first touchdown. "Thinking about my grandma that passed away in the summer, it brought a tear to my eye. A lot of work that went into that."
"Everybody was celebrating that tonight," Wilson added. "I felt really happy for him. I know he's going to continue to work his butt off. He gets there early every morning. I get to work with him every morning early, around 6:15, 6:30 during the season. He wants to be great, so that's just the start. Got a lot more to do. It's just a start."
For Eskridge, finally making it into the end zone for his new team has been a long, arduous journey. Only weeks after being selected in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, he sprained his big toe during organized team activities. Even after a six-week break, the injury ended up keeping him out of the majority of training camp before he finally came off the PUP list in mid-August.
Then, after tantalizing with his versatility as a runner and receiver in Seattle's regular season opening win in Indianapolis, Eskridge took a shot to the helmet in the fourth quarter and exited with a severe concussion. He wouldn't play again for eight weeks, spending time on injured reserve and missing a grand total of seven games.
Struggling to get over the hump in his recovery and dealing with vision-related issues, Wilson advised Eskridge to meet with Dr. Matthew Antonucci, a specialist in Florida who had previously worked with the star signal caller's younger sister Anna after she suffered a serious concussion of her own. Spending a week away from the team, the trip helped him finally turn the corner and he returned to practice after Seattle's bye in Week 9.
“It was just a lot of things that weren’t corrected, that I had to correct," Eskridge remarked. "I don’t want to get into all of the details, but it was a continuous process that I had to stay consistent with. It took a while, but I’m glad to be back.”
Upon his return in early November, the Seahawks phased Eskridge back into action slowly, as he saw only five offensive snaps in a loss to the Packers and 11 snaps in a loss to the Cardinals. Last Monday, he played a season-high 13 snaps in a loss to Washington, catching two passes for 10 yards.
While his numbers on Sunday were hardly jaw-dropping with three receptions for 35 yards, Eskridge caught all of his targets from Wilson and converted each of them into either a touchdown or a first down. His third reception came early in the third quarter when Wilson connected with him on a crossing route for a 17-yard gain, advancing Seattle to the opposing 34-yard line.
As they gain more experience working together in game situations and developing chemistry on the field, Wilson's confidence in Eskridge keeps growing. Yesterday marked the first time the star quarterback seemed to be actively looking for the rookie wideout, which could be a sign he will be a bigger factor for Seattle down the stretch.
"I think my chemistry with Dee Eskridge is great," Wilson commented. "I think he understands the game. He's working really hard at it. He asks great questions. He is tremendously talented as you guys saw. He's hard to tackle, too. Made some really key plays tonight, so I felt really pumped up for him tonight."
Thrilled to see the electric playmaker finally finding success on the field and contributing for his team, like Wilson, coach Pete Carroll hopes Eskridge's bad luck is behind him and Sunday's performance serves as a stepping stone towards getting him even more involved in the Seahawks offense. With five games left to play and a slim shot at still making the playoffs, his emergence could prove to be a true difference maker down the stretch.
"He looked good. Had a couple plays. Made a first down and did a couple things we're not surprised by. He's really got some strength to him and some explosiveness that will continue to allow him to make plays. We just got to get him going more. But he did a really nice job for us today."