NFL Nation: Steven Hauschka

Steven HauschkaAP Photo/Stephen BrashearAs fans endure rulebook fatigue, the NFL is tinkering with kicking staples in place nearly a century.
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The NFL's competition committee will meet this week to debate proposals that would fundamentally change the game, a list ranging from an expansion of instant replay to extension of the postseason to a reimagining of the extra point. So now is a good time to recount a story that Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told a small group of reporters two days before Super Bowl XLIX.

A few weeks earlier, Vincent found himself listening to talk radio in Green Bay as he drove to Austin Straubel Airport, reliving the controversial divisional playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. He wanted to know how fans were reacting to a rule that disallowed what by all evidence looked like a legal catch by Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant in the fourth quarter of the Packers' 26-21 victory.

"A guy was saying, 'You know, I'm watching the game now and I feel like I have to have a rule book,'" Vincent said. "I parked. I paused and wanted to listen further. I'm [thinking], if he feels that way, and [his team] won, then imagine how other people feel across the country. [They're like], 'I used to know the rules. Football used to be so simple. You run. You throw. You tackle.' When you hear those things around the country, and you read different comments, you say, 'This is something we have to think about. How do we get a culture where there is clarity and consistency for all?'"

What Vincent heard and articulated was a sense that the NFL neared a tipping point with its most loyal fans during the 2014 season. These are the people who look past the league's off-field stumbles, who can stomach concerns about the long-term health of players, and just want to consume football. Even that group has been confused and at times outraged by a labyrinth of NFL rules, exceptions and points of emphasis that impacted games throughout the season.

Among Vincent's duties, one is quite basic: He must ensure that football makes sense and agrees with the average consumer, a task hardened by decades of unintended consequences from rule changes designed to correct a specific flaw. And yet, even when one of its executives recognizes the situation, the NFL is pursuing another set of inorganic changes that would further complicate the game.

The league appears obsessed at its highest levels with changing the near-automatic extra point, as evidenced by commissioner Roger Goodell's prominent mention during his annual news conference last month. It's true that place-kickers have been converting extra points at a rate above 99 percent for five consecutive years, as the chart shows. But two possible changes, expected to be on the competition committee's agenda this week, appear flawed as well.

The possibilities stem from a pair of experiments conducted in the past six months. In the first two weeks of the 2014 preseason, extra points were placed at the 15-yard line and thus became 33-yard kicks. The conversion rate dropped to 94.3 percent for the resulting 141 attempts. Then, in the Pro Bowl last month, the league narrowed the uprights by four feet -- from 18 feet, 6 inches to 14 feet, 6 inches -- and watched as place-kicker Adam Vinatieri uncharacteristically missed a field goal and two extra-point attempts.

"When you adjust it down, it's not automatic," Vincent said. "... I think that will be something that will be discussed, absolutely, just seeing what we saw in the Pro Bowl. I think it was good."

There is no debating that a 33-yard extra point and/or narrower goalposts would make kicks more difficult. But would it make sense within the context of the game? And would it really be more entertaining?

I spoke with both Super Bowl kickers last month about the possible changes. Neither the Seattle Seahawks' Steven Hauschka nor the New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski were enthused, and not simply because it would make their jobs more difficult.

"They just want more entertainment," Hauschka said. "If that's what they think is entertainment, then go for it. I think it will affect the games in more ways than they think."

Consider a late-season game at Chicago's Soldier Field. Each team scores three touchdowns but the game is decided by a missed extra point. Would that process and result be more entertaining? Or just annoying?

Meanwhile, Hauschka theorized that conversion rates on field goals would drop from their current spot (84 percent in 2014) to the 70s or lower with narrower goalposts. Gostkowski wondered whether decision-makers understand how often kicking technique requires use of the uprights' periphery.

"When you play in a place like New England or Buffalo or anywhere in the Northeast, there is a lot of wind," Gostkowski said. "You don't always aim down the middle. You have to play the wind. It's a guessing game with the wind, and given a couple of feet less on each side, it becomes [an] extremely, extremely more difficult task at hand."

The chart suggests the sharp rise of field goal accuracy might have leveled off. And an argument could be made that long-distance field goals actually increase scoring and entertainment. "If a team decides to go for a 55-yard field goal and has a good kicker and he makes it," Hauschka said, "I think they should be rewarded for it. You won't see those kinds of attempts anymore if they narrow the goalposts."

The NFL hasn't changed the width of the uprights since it began recording field dimensions prior to the 1920s, according to a league spokesman. The upright is as much a part of the game as a 100-yard field. And if the league moves the spot on extra points, it would introduce an inorganic scenario in which a 19-yard field goal could count for three points while a 33-yard extra point would count for one.

So for what it's worth, I'll return to a suggestion a number of coaches made last summer.

Instead of changing the uprights or moving the spot of the extra point in the name of entertainment, why not give teams an incentive to go for two points after a touchdown? Simply shifting the line of scrimmage from the 2-yard line to the 1 is probably enough. Multiple coaches said they would be more likely to go for two from the 1-yard line, given its reduced difficulty and increased play-calling possibilities.

Since 2001, which is as far as ESPN Stats & Information's records go, the conversion rate for two-point plays from the 1-yard line (after a penalty) is 69.7 percent. By definition, that makes it a substantially more difficult -- and genuinely entertaining -- play without disrupting an efficiency in the kicking game that the league should be trying to preserve.

Would the NFL consider it? I haven't detected any substantive discussion. But if Vincent is hearing about frustration over complex rules, and he knows they originate from attempts to straighten out specific objections, you would hope there is a chance.
Re-signing a kicker may not seem like big news to some fans, but keeping Steven Hauschka was a move the Seattle Seahawks had to make.

Hauschka has blossomed into one the best kickers in the NFL. He agreed to a three-year deal Monday worth $9.1 million, including $3.3 million in guaranteed money. And he's worth every cent of it.

Other than the deal to keep defensive end Michael Bennett, this is the most significant move the Seahawks have made in free agency.

Hauschka, 28, made 33 of 35 field goals he attempted in the 2013 regular season, and one of those misses was a block at Indianapolis that wasn't his fault. He also was 5 for 5 in field goal attempts during the playoff.

Another more subtle improvement in Hauschka's game last season was the depth of his kickoffs, accounting for more, deep end-zone kicks that were not returned than any previous year of his career.

And Seattle isn't the easiet place for a kicker to do his job, often kicking in the rain and sometimes windy and cold conditions. But it's no big deal for Hauschka, who grew up in Needham, Mass., and played three years of college football at Middlebury College in Vermont before ending his college career at North Carolina State.

So this was an important deal for the Seahawks and one that came at a reasonable price.

Mission accomplished. The Seattle Seahawks did what they wanted to do and kept the man they really wanted to keep.

Michael Bennett, possibly the No. 1 defensive lineman among this year's free agents, signed a four-year deal with Seattle on Monday that will pay him $28.5 million-plus, including $16 million guaranteed and $10 million for 2014.

“It was close, but I'm happy to be coming back with the Seahawks," Bennett said. “I have a good situation, so why would I want to change it? And I got as much guaranteed as any other contract out there. This is a great team and great organization. I want all our guys to come back."

Seattle general manager John Schneider said all along that re-signing Bennett was a top priority, along with keeping the core of the Super Bowl-winning team together.

Bennett was the team's best defensive lineman last year after signing a one-year contract for $5 million. He had 8.5 sacks and was a constant disruptive force with his ability to play tackle or end.

So the question is, can the Seahawks still re-sign their other top free agents after spending this much money on Bennett? Does this signing mean wide receiver Golden Tate is gone? Does it mean they can't keep defensive tackles Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel? Does it impact the ability to re-sign kicker Steven Hauschka?

Not necessarily.

The Seahawks were able to keep Bennett for less money than some people thought it would take for him to stay. Some thought Bennett would get as much as $40 million over four years.

What Seattle is paying Bennett is similar to what they would have paid defensive end Red Bryant this year if they had kept him.

Tate is probably Seattle's next priority. The Seahawks released receiver Sidney Rice to free up money to try to keep Tate. But Tate believes he can get more than $7 million per year, possibly from the New York Jets. If so, he is probably gone. If the Seahawks can keep him in the $5 million range for four years, he could return.

Top kickers in the league are getting $3 million or more, which is what Hauschka will want in order to stay. He's worth it. Hauschka missed only two field goals all season, and one of those was blocked.

The Seahawks probably will need to choose between McDonald and McDaniel. If so, they should keep McDonald. He made only $592,000 last year and had a breakout season with 5.5 sacks.

So the price was right for keeping Bennett, who turned down more money from the Chicago Bears. They offered Bennett $32 million over four years. However, Illinois has a state income tax and Washington doesn't, so it's probably a wash.

Bennett said the contract details did play a small part in his decision, but not a big part. The fact is that Bennett wanted to stay in Seattle, despite his earlier words that “this isn't Costco” when asked about giving a hometown discount.

"It's about the fans, the team and the city," he said. "I think this is the No. 1 football city in America."

Bennett also said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman begged him to stay and influenced his decision.

The Seahawks also are likely to make a couple of more moves with veteran players to add salary-cap space. Defensive end Chris Clemons, whose cap value is $9.6 million in 2014, probably will be released, but could re-sign for less money. Tight end Zach Miller, with a cap value of $7 million this year, probably will need to restructure his contract in order to stay.

Once again, Schneider is showing he is the master manipulator on salary-cap issues. He managed to keep one of the defensive stars of a Super Bowl-winning team, and did so for less money than many thought it would take.

Don't count the GM out when it comes to keeping most of the other key free agents who helped Seattle win a championship.

Franchise/transition tags: Seahawks

February, 17, 2014
The Seattle Seahawks have three top-priority free agents they want to keep: defensive end Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka.

But considering where the team is headed with it salary-cap issues one year from now, it appears unlikely Seattle would use a franchise tag on any of them.

There are three possible franchise designations -- exclusive tender, non-exclusive tender and transition player. All three are explained here.

The Seahawks know a day of reckoning is coming after next season when the contracts are up for cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, and quarterback Russell Wilson is eligible to renegotiate his original contract.

That’s going to cost $35 million to $40 million to keep all three of them. A franchise designation could make sense next year for Sherman or Thomas.

But for now, the cost is just too steep for Bennett or Tate. Bennett would receive a raise of almost $8 million, going from $4.8 million to $12.6 million. Tate’s salary would be an astronomical increase from $880,000 against the salary cap to $11.6 million.

That’s just too steep a price to pay for a team that has to plan ahead for the enormous salary issues coming soon.

However, a franchise tag for Hauschka isn’t completely out of the question. It would cost the Seahawks a comparatively low $3 million, moving Hauschka from $620,000 to $3.6 million.

It may seem a little far-fetched to use the franchise tag on a kicker, but the Seahawks have done it before. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll opted to use it on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010, but they haven’t used it since.

Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last season, missing only two attempts, and one of those was blocked. He also improved his distance on kickoffs with touchbacks on 52 percent on those kicks.

Nevertheless, it’s more likely the Seahawks will try to sign Hauschka to a multiyear deal than use the franchise tag.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season,’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 15, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 23-0 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium:

What it means: The Seahawks improve to an NFL-best 12-2 and earn a franchise-record sixth road victory this season. Seattle needs to win only one of its last two games (both at home) to clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Stock watch: It was the best effort of the season by the Seattle defense. The Giants had only 54 yards in the first half. Eli Manning threw five interceptions, and three picks came in the first two quarters, although the last one by Richard Sherman was on a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the half. New York had only 15 yards rushing in the first half. This will give you some idea of how well the Seahawks played on defense. Golden Tate tied the franchise record with seven punt returns in the game.

Cornered: Another stellar effort by the Seattle cornerbacks. Two weeks in a row, quarterbacks have tested backup corner Byron Maxwell, only to watch him burn them. Maxwell had two interceptions Sunday, giving him three in the past two games. And any team that throws a sideline go route on Sherman is just plain dumb. Manning tried it in the second quarter, and Sherman could have called for a fair catch. Jeremy Lane also played well as the nickelback. Even the interception by free safety Earl Thomas late in the fourth quarter came on an assist from Sherman in the end zone when he batted the ball to Thomas. The Legion of Boom hasn't missed a beat without cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond.

Hauschka a kicking machine: It was another perfect day for Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka, who went 3-for-3 on field goals. He has made 30 of 31 field goals, with his only miss a blocked kick at Indianapolis. Hauschka is the best kicker in the league this season.

What's next: The Seahawks return home for the final two games of the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals on the Sunday before Christmas and the St. Louis Rams on the Sunday after Christmas. If the Seahawks defeat Arizona, the final game becomes a chance to rest some starters and not risk injuries before the playoffs.

Top 5 Seahawks at the bye week

November, 21, 2013
RENTON, Wash. -- My top five Seattle Seahawks at the bye week for a team that is 10-1, right where it wants to be:

5. Richard Sherman: He’s gotten burned for a couple of big plays, but that happens when you have a cornerback who plays as much press coverage and Sherman does.

It’s well worth the risk for what Sherman gives the team in return, tight coverage that often forces turnovers and causes the opposing offense to make mistakes. Sherman has four interceptions and leads the team with 11 passes defensed.

That number would be higher, but quarterbacks often avoid throwing his way. Sherman completely shut down San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin and Atlanta's Roddy White this season.

He is the best cornerback in the NFL, hands down.

4. Steven Hauschka: He is the best kicker in the NFL this season. Hauschka leads the league with 104 points scored, having made all his PATs and 24 of 25 field goal attempts. And his only miss was the blocked kick at Indianapolis, which wasn’t his fault.

Hauschka hasn’t missed inside the 40, and has made 12 of 13 from 40 yards and beyond, including 3 for 3 from 50 or longer. Only 30 of his 67 kickoffs have been returned, and none longer than 40 yards.

Hauschka will be huge asset for the Seahawks come playoff time. We often shake our heads watching him in practice. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw him miss one in field-goal drills.

3. Marshawn Lynch: Just flat out beastly. Only LeSean McCoy of Philadelphia has rushed for more yards after 11 games. Lynch has 925 rushing yards, and McCoy has 1,009.

But Lynch is getting it done near the goal line. His nine rushing TDs is tied with Adrian Peterson for the league lead, and his 11 TDs overall (two receiving) is tied with Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson for the most in the NFL.

Having Michael Robinson back at fullback seems to be helping Lynch’s production. In the past three games, Lynch is averaging 108 yards rushing per game and has scored four touchdowns. Lynch also had nine receptions in those three games.

The Seattle offense feeds off Lynch’s relentless running style and his ability to make a high percentage of yards after contact. It’s intimidating to watch him consistently run over would-be tacklers.

2. Earl Thomas: The best free safety in football, and a legitimate defensive MVP candidate. Thomas has worked hard to improve any little weaknesses he had in his game, like the knock on his tackling.

He leads the team this season with 75 tackles, and 61 of those were solo tackles. Thomas also has four interceptions, but it should be five. He had one in the Tampa Bay game when interference was called, which the league later admitted was the wrong call. Thomas also has seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

What doesn’t show up in the stats is the number of times Thomas gets one of his teammates in the right spot by knowing what’s coming. For example, he warned linebacker Bruce Irvin to watch for a wheel route in the St. Louis game that became an Irvin interception.

And Thomas’ quickness is hard to describe without actually seeing it. His closing rate on a play makes it appear he comes out of nowhere to break up a pass or make a tackle.

1. Russell Wilson: Only 11 games into his second season, Wilson has become the clear leader of the Seahawks, on and off the field. Wilson is so much more to this team that just a talented quarterback.

To a man, his teammates believe in him. They know that whatever the circumstance of any game, no matter how dire it might look, they have a chance to win as long as Wilson is calling the signals. Three times this season, and nine times in his brief career, he has led the Seahawks to late-game comebacks.

Wilson is undefeated at home -- a perfect 13-0 in his two seasons. He also has won eight of his past 10 road game, including 5-1 this season.

Wilson has a lot of seemingly silly clichés he loves to say over and over, like this one: “The separation is in the preparation.” But he truly means it, and his teammates see it in his dedication and how diligently he prepares. Wilson often is the first player to arrive at the team facility each day and the last player to leave.

You can’t outsmart the man. He is ready for any situation, and he has the athletic gifts to make good things happen on the field when other quarterbacks would be in trouble.

What might be his biggest accomplishment this season is that he continued to lead the team to victories while under siege most of the time with a patchwork offensive line that was missing both starting tackles for seven weeks and center Max Unger in three games.

Wilson took a physical beating, but kept getting up and getting it done. That’s the kind of thing that will make your teammates run through a brick wall for you.

Special teams showdown coming Sunday

November, 14, 2013
RENTON, Wash. -- The best punt coverage man in the NFL -- Seattle's Jeremy Lane -- is going to face the best punt returner in the league -- Minnesota's Marcus Sherels -- Sunday in Seattle.

And the NFL's best kick returner -- Minnesota rookie Cordarrelle Patterson -- will face one of the best teams in kickoff coverage in the Seahawks.

Something has to give.

Lane, the gunner on punts, is a big reason Seattle leads the league in yards allowed per punt at only 1.4 yards per return. He will get a good test Sunday against Sherels, who leads the NFL with a 16.3 yard average per return. Sherels had an 86-yard touchdown return earlier this year against the New York Giants.

"I just hope he doesn't fair catch it so I can get my hits in," Lane said. "It's gonna be a fun test."

Lane, a cornerback in his second NFL season out of Northwestern State (La.), has seven solo tackles this season on special teams. His speed and quickness have enabled him to get downfield in a hurry and usually be right in the return man's face when he catches the punt.

It also helps that punter Jon Ryan usually has excellent hang time on his kicks.

The real goal is to limit Sherels' chances by not needing to punt much. That was the case last weekend at Atlanta. Seven of Seattle's first eight possessions resulted in points scored. The only time the Seahawks punted on those eight series came after they drove to the Atlanta 38-yard-line.

Seattle punted only twice, and the second one came late in the fourth quarter long after the outcome of the 33-10 win had been decided.

It's the other return man who is likely to get more opportunities for the Vikings. Patterson, a rookie from Tennessee, leads the NFL with a 35.2-yard average on 24 returns, including two touchdowns.

One of those was for 109 yards against Green Bay, so he isn't afraid to bring it out from the back of the end zone. That's likely against Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka, who has placed 56 of 60 kickoffs in the end zone this season.

"We're going to expect him to run it out every time," Seattle special teams captain Heath Farwell said. "Plus, it's getting colder and that means it harder to kick the ball out of the end zone."

The Seahawks are No. 5 in the NFL in kickoff coverage at 20.1 yards per return, and Seattle is first in kickoff tackles inside the 20-yard-line with 14.

Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier has no hard-and-fast rules about when Patterson can take a kick out of the end zone and when he can't.

"We kind of give him the green light," Frazier said. He's such a big-play guy. We trust his judgment. We haven't put any handcuffs on him for kickoffs. He believes every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score.
Doug BaldwinOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDoug Baldwin's TD catch capped the Seahawks' 21-point rally before they beat the Bucs in overtime.
SEATTLE -- Clearly, the Seattle Seahawks have some sort of deal with the devil. Either that, voodoo magic or some sort of reverse logic that makes this team honestly believe it will win no matter how poorly it plays or how far it gets behind.

They did it again Sunday, winning a game when they got slapped around early and made enough mistakes to guarantee defeat for almost any other team at any level.

Not this team. After trailing by three touchdowns, Seattle defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-24 in overtime in front of a frenzied CenturyLink Field crowd that witnessed an historic moment.

Even a 21-0 deficit to the winless Bucs wasn’t insurmountable. No team in Seattle franchise history ever had come back from a 21-point deficit. The most was a 20-0 deficit at Denver in 1995 when the Seahawks won 31-27.

“What a day,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “This really is a tremendous statement about our guys hanging together and believing.”

The Seahawks are now 8-1, but they have lived on the edge all season, winning games they easily could have lost. This one wasn’t on the edge. It was in a barrel at Niagara Falls. It’s almost as if this team can’t play its best until it produces its worst.

“We don’t try to do that,” said receiver Jermaine Kearse, who fumbled a kickoff but also had a touchdown catch. “We would prefer to win easy.”

Well, it’s certainly more dramatic this way. The Seahawks are a little like the guy who jumps out of a plane and, just for fun, doesn’t pull the parachute until the last possible moment. It’s scary, but it sure is exciting.

Seattle has won 12 consecutive games at CenturyLink, a place where quarterback Russell Wilson never has lost. He did enough things wrong to lose this one, throwing two interceptions in Tampa Bay territory, including one when Seattle had first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 3 while trailing 24-17 in the fourth quarter.

“But Russell has one thing all quarterbacks need,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “A short memory.”

Seattle tied the game on its next possession when Wilson rolled out and threw a short pass to Doug Baldwin for a 10-yard touchdown.

“He never lets a mistake get him down,” Baldwin said of Wilson. “And this is the most resilient team I’ve ever been a part of.”

Carroll has learned never to doubt his second-year quarterback.

“I wouldn’t want anybody else out there,” Carroll said. “I really trust him. He did exactly what we needed him to do. He’s just a tremendous football player and a great leader. I have yet to see Russell get frustrated.”

It was a frustrating ending for the Bucs, who fall to 0-8.

“To come here against the No. 1 team in the NFC and be up 21-0 [and then lose], well, it's really tough to swallow,” Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon said.

After stopping the Bucs on their first overtime possession, Seattle won it with a 27-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka. But the turning point of the game was a 71-yard punt return by Golden Tate late in the third quarter when Seattle trailed 24-14.

“That really hurt us,” Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “You could feel the momentum shift. When you have a team down like that, you have to choke them out, because great teams can come back, and they are a great team.”

Are they? Maybe, but it’s as unconventionally great as you’ll ever see. The Seahawks' defense gave up 205 yards rushing Sunday. It was the second consecutive game they allowed at least 200 yards rushing, but they won both of them.

Tampa Bay didn’t have a turnover and Seattle had three. The Bucs had the ball for six more minutes than the Seahawks. But Seattle is a team that defies logic. Three touchdowns behind and they don’t even flinch.

"That’s the difference in this team now compared to teams here in the past," Robinson said. "There’s no panic on the sidelines. Guys just stand there and say, 'OK. We’re going to make this happen.'"

The closer they get to disaster, the more they play with reckless abandon. Take Marshawn Lynch, for example. He rushed for 125 yards on 21 carries, but 44 of those yards came on six carries in the overtime series that set up the winning field goal. Lynch left the game in the first half; it was reported he tweaked a knee injury, but Carroll said that was incorrect. “He got a little sick to his stomach,” Carroll said.

So did the Bucs trying to stop him at the end.

Carroll was asked if he ever before coached a team that came back from 21 points down.

“I can’t remember,” He said. "But I know we’ve been down 21 points before.”

A comeback like this one is not something you forget.
SEATTLE -- A team can’t end a first half worse than the Seattle Seahawks did Sunday.

The botched field-goal attempt that went the other way for a touchdown was the capper in a run of ridiculous mistakes. Still, the Seahawks still managed to win 20-13 over a Tennessee Titans team whose offense was inept without starting quarterback Jake Locker.

The 10-point swing on the field-goal debacle was a prime example of unthinkable craziness. It was easy for the Seahawks to laugh about after winning, but not so much at the time.

The Seahawks drove down the field and had a chance at a 22-yard field goal on the final play of the half. But their regular kicker, Steven Hauschka, was in the locker room being check for a possible concussion after he'd been walloped in the nose on a kickoff return earlier in the second quarter. That meant the Seahawks' punter, Jon Ryan, was in to kick -- and since he's usually the holder, that job also was being performed by a backup in safety Chris Maragos.

[+] EnlargeJon Ryan
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBackup kicker plus backup holder did not equal good things for the Seahawks before halftime.
The result can only be described as a complete disaster. Maragos fumbled the snap, tried to get up and run but fumbled the ball away. Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty scooped it up and took it to the house for a 77-yard touchdown.

So instead of leading 10-3 at halftime, Seattle trailed 10-7.

“I really wanted the field goal,” Ryan said. “All these years of playing [pro] football and I’ve never scored a point. I wanted to give that ball to my mum.”

Ryan is Canadian, in case you couldn’t guess by the reference to his mother.

“The last time I attempted a field goal was a preseason game in 2004 in the Canadian Football League,” Ryan said. “I kicked in college, but I was really bad. But I’m sure I would have made that one.”

Maybe, but the end result was one enormous downer entering the locker room at halftime.

“We were frustrated,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said. “At the time, everybody on offense just wanted us to go for it. Hauschka was hurt. We felt like we should have gone for it. But I don’t think it deterred us in any way. We always talk about [how] you don’t win games in the first half.”

Even Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he should have let the offense go for it instead of risking the field goal with a new kicker and holder, but Maragos wasn’t a greenhorn at holding for a kick.

“I held all four years in college at Wisconsin,” he said. “But I messed it up. I didn’t get the snap down, so then it’s a fire call and you try to roll out. But I should’ve just gone down. Our defense was playing well all game and I should have just taken a knee.”

Should that situation arise again, Carroll said quarterback Russell Wilson would be the holder. The field-goal failure was the second time in the last two games that Seattle has given up a touchdown return on a field-goal attempt.

Against Indianapolis last week, Hauschka’s 48-yard attempt was blocked before Delano Howell ran it back 61 yards for a score. This time, Hauschka was in the locker room and didn’t see the play.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Hauschka said. “I still haven’t seen the play. It was a big blow for us. I was trying to get back out there as quickly as I could, but I had to finish the concussion tests.”

It was Hauschka's aggressive play to make a tackle on a kickoff that started the chain of events that led to the botched attempt.

"I’m a bigger guy," said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hauschka, "and that’s the first time I’ve been popped like that. I felt out of it for a couple of minutes. We did the concussion protocol and I was fine."

Ryan said: “I don’t know if [Hauschka] is the toughest guy. Me, yes, but him no.”

Easy to joke about it now. Cornerback Richard Sherman was asked if he feels an obligation to teach Hauschka proper tackling technique.

“I feel an obligation to teach Hauschka how to get out of the way,” Sherman said.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 5

October, 7, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of three topics from the Indianapolis Colts34-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsColts RB Trent Richardson finished Sunday's game against Seattle with 56 yards on 18 carries.
DPOY: You should have Colts linebacker Robert Mathis on your defensive player of the year list if you didn't have him on there before. Mathis has made any thoughts about him not being able to be a force without former teammate Dwight Freeney vanish. Mathis leads the league in sacks with 9.5 after picking up two Sunday. He also became the 30th player in league history to reach 100 career sacks when he recorded a strip sack on the final play of the first half. “I can appreciate it and never take it for granted because it is a big milestone,” Mathis said. “Appreciate it and I’m very blessed.”

Finding a rhythm: Running back Trent Richardson had a brutal first half -- and that’s being polite -- when he ran for 2 yards on six carries. But things changed for him in the second half when he averaged 5.4 yards on his 12 carries. You had a feeling Richardson would have a better second half when he took off for 16 yards, his longest run of the season, on his first carry. His best run came when he went off the left tackle for a 10-yard gain on third-and-5 to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter. Adam Vinatieri later made a 49-yard field goal to put the Colts up 34-28. Richardson is still working to find a rhythm, with his play in the second half being a step in the right direction. “Everything is starting to slow down for me,” he said. “At first, you know it was pretty fast, trying to learn. Now I’ve played three games. With that, I’m still a professional, so at the same time I got to be on my P’s and Q’s. I've got to know what’s going on.”

Special teams were special: It was a rough start on special teams. The normally reliable Pat McAfee shanked his first punt -- 34 yards -- giving the Seahawks the ball near midfield. Then the Seahawks overloaded the middle and ran a pick-and-roll (excuse the basketball terminology) on snapper Matt Overton, allowing Jermaine Kearse to block McAfee’s punt. Jeron Johnson couldn’t gather the ball before it went out of the back of the end zone, giving Seattle a safety. The Colts countered the Seahawks’ blocked punt when defensive lineman Lawrence Guy blocked Steven Hauschka’s 48-yard field goal attempt. Safety Delano Howell picked up the loose ball and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown, barely outrunning Seattle holder Jon Ryan. “He was kind of quick,” Howell said. “I wasn’t expecting that. Respect to him. I heard he was a wide receiver at one point.” Sunday marked the fourth time in team history that the Colts have returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
A weekly examination of the Seahawks' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 1 | Last Week: 1 | Power Ranking since 2002

A near-miraculous second-half comeback to remain unbeaten wasn’t enough for the Seattle Seahawks to keep the top spot in the Power Rankings.

Seattle pulled off a 23-20 overtime victory on the road against the Houston Texans, but judging by how poorly the Seahawks played in the first half, it’s easy to see why the Denver Broncos leaped ahead of them.

Seattle was down 20-3 at the half after giving up 324 yards (including 226 passing yards) to the Texans. And the Seahawks' patchwork offensive line, down three starters, was a hot mess most of the day, allowing five sacks and looking clueless on how to keep the Texans' defenders out of the backfield.

However, the Seahawks are at their best when things look their worst. Down 20-6 in the fourth quarter, quarterback Russell Wilson used his running ability to lead the team to a 98-yard touchdown drive. And Richard Sherman made Texans quarterback Matt Schaub the most unpopular man in Houston with a 58-yard pick-six to tie the game.

The Seahawks' final 42-yard drive led to a 45-yard Steven Hauschka field goal that won it after the Seattle defense had held the Texans scoreless for the last 41 minutes of the game at 20-all.

So it was a tale of two halves. The Seahawks didn’t look like a team worthy of a top-10 ranking in the first half. They looked like a team of heart, grit and a never-quit attitude in the second half.

The end result was another victory, but a one-spot drop in the rankings.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 23, Texans 20

September, 29, 2013

HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 23-20 overtime victory against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.

What it means: Even on a day when the Seahawks looked awful in many areas of the game, they still found a way to win, pulling off a stunning come-from-behind victory on the road. This game showed the Seahawks have some problem areas on the offensive line and can give up big yards on defense. But it was quarterback Russell Wilson's scrambling and running downfield that got Seattle back in the game in the fourth quarter. Then a Richard Sherman 58-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game before a Steven Hauschka 45-yard field goal won it. This is the first time the Seahawks have ever won the first four games in a season.

Stock watch: An awful day for the Seattle offensive line, but no one should be surprised with three starters injured. Free safety Earl Thomas had an early interception off a tipped ball and Sherman tied it in the fourth quarter with the pick-six, but the Seahawks struggled on defense in the first half. It was a season-worst day for the defense early, but things changed in the second half and overtime when the Seahawks' defense looked like the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

First half woes: The Seahawks gave up 324 yards in the first half, including 226 yards passing. The Texans led 20-3 at the half after Houston receivers were wide open in the middle of the field against the highly acclaimed Seattle secondary. What happened?

Wilson a sitting duck all day: With three starters out on the offensive line, including Pro Bowlers Max Unger and Russell Okung, the backups up front were no match for defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus and the other Houston pass-rushers. Wilson was sacked five times and under pressure on almost every pass play, yet still managed to bring the Seahawks back in the fourth quarter and lead the team to victory.

What’s next: The Seahawks travel to face the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. It will be the second consecutive 10 a.m. PT start time for the Seahawks and the third of five 10 a.m. starts this season.

Observation deck: Seahawks-Raiders

August, 30, 2013

SEATTLE — For the second consecutive year, the Seattle Seahawks end the preseason undefeated.

That and $4 will get you a Starbucks coffee across the street from Pike Place Market, but the Seahawks will take it and use the momentum to start a season of high expectations and Super Bowl predictions from many experts and fans.

Seattle defeated the Oakland Raiders 22-6 Thursday night at Century Link Field in the typical battle of backups for the final preseason game.

What it means: The Seahawks look like a team ready to contend for the championship. The defense allowed only 36 points in the four preseason games. The biggest problem for the coaches is determining who makes the 53-man roster on what might be the deepest team in the NFL.

Stephen Williams suffers concussion: The one big downer of the night. The receiver has been the biggest surprise on the preseason on offense with his ability to out-battle defenders on deep throws down the sideline. He did it again Thursday, but this time the end result was costly.

Williams made a leaping 50-yard catch on Seattle’s opening drive, out-clawing Oakland defender Phillip Adams for the ball on the long pass from Russell Wilson. But Williams fell backward on the catch and slammed his head into the turf, resulting in a concussion.

That makes Williams’ status for the season opener uncertain. There is a protocol of tests he must go through before getting an OK to practice or play. The good news is that he has 10 days before the opener in Charlotte, N.C., against the Carolina Panthers.

No worries at kicker: Steven Hauschka was perfect against Oakland, making five field goals, including three of more than 50 yards -- a 56-yarder in the first quarter, a 51-yarder in the second and a 53-yarder in the fourth. Hauschka also had five touchbacks on kickoffs.

Jermaine Kearse sees all: Wide receiver Kearse should be the poster boy for Lasik surgery. He was close to perfect in the preseason after having the Lasik procedure in the offseason to improve his vision and end his days of wearing contact lenses. Kearse had two more receptions in the third quarter Thursday, including a 33-yard sideline catch. He ended the preseason with two touchdown catches and a 107-yard kickoff return for a TD.

What’s next: The Seahawks open the regular season at the Panthers on Sept. 8. Seattle defeated Carolina 16-12 last October in Charlotte, but the Seahawks have lost their past two season openers, both of which were on the road.

Seattle is 7-5 in its past 12 season openers, but 2-5 in the past seven openers on the road. Next week’s game will be the 10th time the Seahawks have started the regular season on the road in the past 14 seasons.
The Seattle Seahawks have announced Steven Hauschka's re-signing with the team.

The veteran kicker could still face competition in training camp from a drafted rookie, rookie free agent or even from another veteran.

But with Hauschka under contract, every team in the NFC West has a kicking option on its roster.

The chart at right shows field-goal percentages over the past five years for veteran and rookie kickers. The percentages are similar. Some kickers face tougher circumstances based on variables such as distance, venue, weather and situations. But in looking at the percentages overall, teams might feel better about going young at the position.

The chart below shows 2012 field-goal percentages for current NFC West kickers Phil Dawson (San Francisco 49ers), Jay Feely (Arizona Cardinals), Greg Zuerlein (St. Louis Rams), Hauschka and David Akers, formerly of the 49ers.

Hauschka suffered an injury during the playoffs last season. The team signed Ryan Longwell on a short-term basis.

The chart below shows which NFC West unrestricted free agents have signed this offseason. The list does not include players who were released or otherwise did not qualify for UFA status.