OF THE FIVE healthy wideouts on the Seahawks' sideline on Sunday, four entered the league undrafted, three have been on a practice squad and just one has hauled in more than 51 passes in an NFL season. There is no doubt, then, that Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters will enter MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 as the most nondescript collection of wideouts ever to play in the Super Bowl.
But as opponents have learned throughout the season, nondescript should not be confused with nonessential. In Week 1 at Carolina, Seattle had only a pair of field goals to show for its first six possessions and trailed 7--6 early in the fourth quarter. With each stalled drive, the Panthers grew more confident. Yet just when the game appeared to be slipping away, Kearse beat double coverage on a second-and-10 from the Carolina 43 and soared high to snare the decisive TD. Seven weeks later, St. Louis's Edward Jones Dome was rocking when the Rams cut the Seahawks' lead to 7--6 late in the third. That's when Tate, amid deafening roars, snared a lob pass over cornerback Janoris Jenkins and raced down the sideline for a score that blunted the threat. A week later, trailing the Bucs by 17 late in the third, everything felt off until, on third-and-four from Tampa's 48, Russell Wilson found Tate for 19 yards. One play later he hooked up with Baldwin for 19 more. And on the snap after that, Wilson sprinted into the end zone, igniting a stretch of 20 straight Seattle points—just enough to win in overtime.
In the fourth quarter of the 23--15 NFC divisional round win over the Saints, Baldwin shredded one-on-one coverage down the sideline for 24 yards on third-and-three, keeping a crucial scoring drive alive. And on Sunday, against the 49ers, it was Baldwin again, finding open space while Wilson scrambled and making a 51-yard grab that set up the Seahawks' first points. Two quarters later, Kearse gave them their first lead with a 35-yard TD catch against tight coverage on fourth-and-seven.
"It's a really competitive group," says Pete Carroll. "They're athletic, they're clutch, they're tough, they block well. You don't know who's going to have a big game when we need it—but they're all ready for it."
It takes selflessness to play wideout in Seattle, where the offense revolves around the running of Marshawn Lynch, especially with big-play wideout Percy Harvin so often injured. (He's expected to play in New Jersey.) The Seahawks have ranked in the bottom two in pass attempts each of the last two seasons; in 2013 their 420 passes were 147 behind the league average. No wideout has caught more than 64 balls in any of the last three seasons. And this year, as a unit, they combined for 141. Around the league, five individuals had at least 100.
"In this offense you know you're not going to get many targets, so you have to take advantage of them," says Tate, Seattle's pacesetter in catches (64) and yards (898). "It's definitely tough; you might get only three balls in a game, so if you end up with one drop, you feel like you played like crap. I've watched games where big-time receivers dropped three or four [balls], but they knew they were going to get other opportunities—they'll still catch five or six other passes and be player of the game. That's not going to happen here."
According to STATS Inc. the Seahawks dropped just 4.6% of their catchable balls this year, the third fewest in the NFL. Equally impressive given Seattle's ground-geared offense: Their 52 receptions of 20 or more yards trailed only 12 teams.
"It gets frustrating because we can do so much more," says Baldwin, who saved his best for last weekend (six catches for 106 crucial yards, the second most of his career). "We feel like we're limited because of the lack of targets. But we've said it numerous times: We'll take fewer targets in order to achieve our ultimate goal."
For even more Broncos and Seahawks coverage in the lead-up to Super Bowl XLVIII, including the latest hot-button entry from cornerback-columnist Richard Sherman, visit TheMMQB.com