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Larry Stone: Seahawks found gem in wide receiver DK Metcalf

Seattle wide receiver D.K. Metcalf catches the pass that allowed the Seahawks to run out the clock in a 17-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia. (Julio Cortez / AP)
Seattle wide receiver D.K. Metcalf catches the pass that allowed the Seahawks to run out the clock in a 17-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia. (Julio Cortez / AP)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

PHILADELPHIA – DK Metcalf put forth what can only be called a goofily eclectic fashion statement Sunday as he held court in the interview room.

He wore a gold-chained Nesquik medallion that he said was symbolic of his affinity for strawberry milk, as well as an Abbey Road sweatshirt that was not symbolic of his love of the Beatles.

“I mean, it was a cool sweatshirt,” he explained with the hint of a smile.

But that wasn’t the Metcalf statement the Seahawks were concerned about Sunday in their 17-9 playoff victory over the Eagles. In big, bold, emphatic and deafening fashion, the rookie wide receiver confirmed his arrival as an offensive force of the first magnitude.

It was there in Russell Wilson’s confidence in Metcalf to win the man-to-man matchups the Eagles presented Seattle with the entire game. His ability to do so was vital on a night when the Seahawks’ rushing attack was stuck in mud. Metcalf turned the game with a 53-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, and then clinched it with a 36-yard reception in the waning seconds when the Eagles were itching for one more crack at forcing overtime.

It was there in the statistics – seven catches for 160 yards and that backbreaking TD that showed off all of his physical gifts. That’s more yards than any Seahawks receiver has ever had in a postseason game, and more playoff yards than any rookie for any team in the history of the league.

“I think the night was stolen by DK,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He did some stuff that it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing.”

If you needed one last bit of confirmation, you could find it in a postgame tweet from none other than LeBron James, the most iconic figure in sports.

“CONGRATS YOUNG KING,” James wrote, depicting the final word with a crown emoji.

When you catch the OLD KING’S attention, you’re doing something right. And Metcalf’s rookie season as a second-round draft pick (skipped over seven selections earlier by the Eagles to instead take Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside – one of seven wide receivers selected ahead of Metcalf) has been a revelation. Combined with his regular-season numbers, Metcalf is now at 1,060 yards (and counting) in an increasingly majestic inaugural year.

But it’s far more than the numbers. It’s the realization the Seahawks finally have, in the 6-foot-4, 230-pound, speed-burning, measurables-rich Metcalf, the big, transcendent receiver they’ve long sought. And a growing understanding of how to exploit him.

K.J. Wright said Metcalf’s performance Sunday reminded him of Calvin Johnson – the fabled Megatron, the gold standard of big-bodied receivers. Russell Wilson compared him to Triple Crown racehorse American Pharoah – “he gets stronger as the race goes on.”

Said defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson: “He’s just a good humble, down-to-earth dude. You’ve been around guys, they have that presence about them. That “it” factor. You can’t really put your finger on it, but you know they got it. And he’s got it.

“And on top of that, he’s like, a specimen.”

That last fact certainly wasn’t lost on Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks’ poet laureate (no longer emeritus), who explained eloquently what most impresses him about Metcalf:

“That he a big-ass dude that can move like that.”

With Lynch and running back partner Travis Homer combining for 19 yards on 17 carries (that’s 1.2 yards per carry, if you’re scoring, and includes Lynch’s turn-back-the-clock, second-effort touchdown run in the second quarter), Metcalf’s breakout was essential.

But as Carroll said, it wasn’t like he’s been scuffling all year. Though Metcalf had some intermittent early issues with drops and fumbles, he conquered them. And his work ethic was cited by virtually every player asked to comment on Metcalf’s emergence.

“All the extra work, all the early mornings – we were throwing at 5:20 in the morning in the summer time,” Wilson said. “That’s what greatness looks like, and he’s done it.”

Metcalf sees it more deeply than anyone else when he reflects on his season – and he reaches back even further, to the broken neck that he suffered at college in Mississippi that threatened to end his career before it even got rolling.

“Blessed, man. All I can say is I’m blessed. I have ‘miracle’ tatted on my back because God performed a miracle on me in college,” he said. “I’m not taking anything for granted, taking every practice, every rep, like it’s my last.”

On the touchdown, Wilson had seemingly overthrown Metcalf, but he hit a second gear, lunged forward and snatched the ball out of the air. The aftermath might have been even more impressive. After his momentum took him to the ground, Metcalf realized he hadn’t been touched, scrambled to his feet, and navigated the final few yards into the end zone.

Then, with the Eagles still within a score and Seattle’s running game virtually nonexistent, Wilson lofted the ball to Metcalf on third-and-10 from their own 11 with a minute and 47 seconds remaining. It was a daring call – Wilson had to retreat into his own end zone to make the throw. A sack or pick would have been deadly. An incompletion would have set up a nerve-racking defensive stand for Seattle. But Metcalf went up with the defender and pulled it down for a 36-yard completion. Game over.

Carroll said afterward that while the call appeared risky, the Seahawks had practiced the play so much that he felt it was safe. Especially with Metcalf on the other end.

“It was in the air for a little minute,” Metcalf said. “All year, Russ has been telling me, ‘Don’t let the ball come down, don’t let the ball come down, attack it.’ That’s all I was thinking, just attack the ball.”

Perhaps the greatest sign of Metcalf’s progress is that his brilliance is rapidly becoming an expected part of the Seahawks’ repertoire. Lynch has only been part of it for two weeks, but when asked if Metcalf’s performance as a rookie surprised him, he had a quick answer.

“Nope. Not even a little bit.”

Now that Nesquik necklace – that’s a different story.

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