Football

Special teams give Seahawks a boost over Packers

Seattle’s Garry Gilliam caught a touchdown pass off a fake field goal in the NFC Championship Game.
Seattle’s Garry Gilliam caught a touchdown pass off a fake field goal in the NFC Championship Game. The Associated Press

Seahawks rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam saw the ball lofting his way, and as the 6-foot-5, 306-pounder settled under it Sunday, he had only one thought: Don’t blow it.

“I was just telling myself, just catch and secure it,” Gilliam said with a laugh. “That was it. Just kept it simple.”

Gilliam, who played tight end at Penn State, picked a heck of a time to come up with his first professional catch. His 19-yard third-quarter touchdown reception from punter Jon Ryan on a fake field goal got the slumping Seahawks on the board in their 28-22 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

“I really believed in this fake,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “I thought we had a great shot at it because I believe in Jon Ryan’s ability to come out of there exploding like he did, and really it was the first opportunity we had. I couldn’t wait to get the thing called.”

Neither could Ryan, who was thrilled to see the Packers gave him the correct look he needed to run the fake instead of having kicker Steven Hauschka kick a 36-yard field goal.

“As long as we had the look on the field that we wanted to go with it, we were going to stick with it,” Ryan said. “I was hoping (we would) … I didn’t get within 5 feet of Pete or (special teams coordinator) Brian (Schneider) without mentioning that we should run it.”

Ryan, it turns out, was as confident as Carroll that it would work. They started working on it in practice on Thursday, and Gilliam was a natural catching it.

“When we practiced it this week, he never had any problems catching the ball,” Ryan said. “So I had total confidence in him when I flipped it up there.”

But the fake field goal, which cut the Seahawks’ deficit to 16-7 with 4:44 left in the third quarter, was hardly the only big special teams play on Sunday. After scoring a touchdown to cut their deficit to 19-14 late in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks scored the go-ahead touchdown after receiver Chris Matthews recovered an onside kick that pounced off Green Bay receiver Brandon Bostick’s chest.

“I thought the Green Bay guy was going to pull it down, because he had a shot at it,” Hauschka said. “But I mean, that ball is spinning like crazy, and when I saw Chris grab it, I was ecstatic.”

Even Matthews didn’t expect to end up with the ball.

“I wasn’t even supposed to get the ball, first of all,” Matthews said. “It was supposed to go all the way to Kam (Chancellor). We were all supposed to block for Kam and Kam was supposed to go out and get the ball. But it popped up, it was a perfect kick, he bobbled it and we capitalized.”

It all added up to a heck of a roller coaster ride for Hauschka, who admitted there was a moment in the fourth quarter where things looked bleak for the Seahawks, who trailed 19-7 with four minutes left.

“I saw fans leaving, and I thought the game was done,” Hauschka said. “And were talking about what a waste it was to have the season end like this. But you can’t ever count us out.”

And while Hauschka knew that the odds of recovering the onside kick were slim, he says it was easy to put that out of his mind and give his best effort.

“That’s what our job is,” Hauschka said. “You don’t think about consequences, you just think about trying to hit the ball into the ground, which is my (technique) for an onside kick. You just trust it, pop it up in the air, and you can’t control anything else after that.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TerezPaylor.

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