The Seahawks dropped the ball Sunday.
All day long, the wide receivers and the running backs and the tight ends put on a show of sloppy hands that might have rattled a quarterback more temperamental than Russell Wilson.
And then, midway through the fourth quarter — at the precise moment it appeared the Seahawks would be forced to settle for a game-tying field goal attempt against the San Francisco 49ers — Wilson slipped away from a sack at the Niners 15-yard line and threw a pass toward Paul Richardson on the left side of the end zone.
Keenly aware of Wilson’s scramble mode, Richardson fought off Rashard Robinson’s smothering coverage and made a leaping grab that depended just as much on the placement of his feet upon landing.
“I made sure I had enough room to land in bounds, got two feet and started to do my happy dance,” said Richardson, whose dance broke a seven-and-a-half quarter touchdown drought.
Not since 2001 had the Hawks failed to score a TD in their first two games, and had Wilson not hooked up with Richardson, it’s likely the offense would have been required to wait until next week for another shot at the end zone.
“We want to score touchdowns,” continued Richardson. “We were explosive all preseason and we’ve (got) to pick it back up. Explosive plays led to touchdowns and we have to make those plays happen.”
The home opener didn’t figure to be an artistic success. San Francisco’s front seven is stout, quick and young — the 49ers are much improved on defense — and Wilson realized he was in for a trying afternoon on the first offensive series, when third-down back C.J. Prosise dropped a potential scoring pass.
Wet weather compounded ball-control issues. The Seahawks haven’t practiced in the rain since training camp began, and on Sunday they looked as though they haven’t practiced in the rain.
But the defense played so well, it put the team in position to win once Seattle finally sustained a drive with a touchdown.
“Very ugly,” said receiver Doug Baldwin, seemingly savoring his harsh self-assessment of the offense. “But it doesn’t matter how you start and it doesn’t matter how it looks, as long as you get the job done.”
Baldwin was especially proud of Richardson, who suffered a compound dislocation of his right ring finger on the game’s first drive.
“He comes out of the game, he’s sitting there bleeding — bone out of his skin — and goes to the locker room, sews it up, tapes it up, and comes back out and scores the game-winning touchdown,” said Baldwin. “That’s the mentality we have here.”
Richardson’s mentality was, essentially, whatever it takes.
Scoring a touchdown, he said, “was my goal before the injury happened, and that was my goal after I got it sewed up.
“I wasn’t just trying to get out there so people could say, ‘he’s a tough guy. He finished out the game.’ I wanted to go make a difference.”
The difference proved to be a field goal, because the Hawks’ Blair Walsh kicked the ball off the left upright on the extra-point attempt. That clunk brought a corresponding groan from the crowd, which by then had the sense nothing was going to be easy.
“Games are hard to win,” said coach Pete Carroll, “particularly when we did a couple of things that are uncharacteristic for us. I thought we didn’t catch the ball as well as we normally do, and we gave away a couple of touchdowns early that really would have been a whole difference in the football game.”
Not true. The whole difference in the football game was the quarterback throwing a pass, under duress, to a guy who began the afternoon with a bone sticking out of his finger.
The pass went for a touchdown that prompted a question for Richardson: Most important play of your career, Paul?
“It was,” he answered, “the most important one today.”