SEATTLE — With a metal rod in his right leg, Leon Washington was deemed expendable in New York.
Sunday, he was invaluable in Seattle.
Washington made up for a Seattle slew of mistakes and missed chances, returning second-half kickoffs 101 and 99 yards for touchdowns, and the Seahawks held off Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers 27-20 on Sunday.
Pete Carroll’s crew is now a surprising 2-1 and tied at the top of the mediocre NFC West. And Washington looks like a colossal steal after Seattle grabbed the versatile back from the Jets for a fifth-round pick during April’s draft.
Seattle led 10-0 at the half, but was still smarting from a time management failure at the end of the second quarter. Washington made that a forgotten meltdown.
Washington caught the second-half kickoff 1-yard deep in the end zone, and other than a couple of flailing hands grasping at his shoes, went untouched for the longest kickoff return in Seahawks history.
His dash midway through the fourth quarter was the clincher. Rivers had just pulled San Diego (1-2) even with a 12-yard pass to Antonio Gates and 2-point conversion to Legedu Naanee with 6:39 left.
Fifteen seconds later, Seattle was back in front. Washington got lost in a pile, squirted free and raced 99 yards to give Seattle its final advantage.
From there, Rivers tested Seattle’s maligned secondary that allowed the Chargers QB to throw for a career-high 455 yards. San Diego drove to the Seattle 14 before a pair of false starts backed up Rivers. On fourth-and-15 at the Seattle 19, his pass for Gates at the goal line was knocked away by Roy Lewis.
Rivers got one more chance after San Diego’s defense held. Starting at his 45, Rivers completed passes of 16 yards to Buster Davis and 25 yards to Malcom Floyd. Rivers final chance thrown to the goal line was intercepted by rookie safety Earl Thomas with 6 seconds left.
Finally, the normally exuberant Carroll could smile and get a bear hug from defensive line coach Dan Quinn.
Rivers completed 29 of 53 passes and had two touchdowns and two interceptions. Gates finished with seven catches for 109 yards and a score, one of nine players to catch passes.
San Diego played without rookie running back Ryan Mathews (injured ankle). The Chargers also lost star linebacker Shawne Merriman to a calf injury in the first quarter and starting right guard Louis Vasquez to a knee injury. Along with the injuries, San Diego turned over the ball five times and Rivers was sacked another four times.
Seattle will feel fortunate to slip away with the victory considering all its errors.
Matt Hasselbeck made a poor throw that was intercepted at the goal line by Quentin Jammer in the first half, and finished 19 of 32 for 220 yards and a 9-yard TD pass to John Carlson.
Deion Branch appeared to score on a 42-yard TD in the second quarter, but only momentarily. As Branch was about to cross the goal line, Chargers safety Paul Oliver punched the ball loose from behind. The call was originally a touchdown but overturned on replay review.
San Diego could have milked the rest of the half, but Rivers threw three straight incompletions and Seattle capitalized with Hasselbeck’s TD to Carlson with 53 seconds left in the half.
Amazingly, Seattle had one more chance and wasted it. Darren Sproles fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return at the 24, recovered by rookie Dexter Davis. Hasselbeck got Seattle to the Chargers 2 and spiked on second down with Seattle out of timeouts. On third-and-1, Hasselbeck tried a sneak and got the first down. But unsure if he did, the Seahawks tried to rush the kicking unit onto the field and couldn’t get the kick off before the half ended.