NFC playoffs: Seahawks win battle of the birds

PHILADELPHIA — Back in April, DK Metcalf was the ninth receiver selected in the 2019 NFL draft.

Nearly nine months later, Metcalf is looking more like a No. 1, and he’s taking on a headlining role as the Seattle Seahawks dance along the long road toward the Super Bowl.

The rookie sensation turned in his most sensational performance yet as the Seahawks defeated the banged-up Philadelphia Eagles 17-9 in their wild-card playoff game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Metcalf made an acrobatic catch for the touchdown that dictated how the fourth quarter was played, then came up with the game-clinching grab on a gutsy third-down call that allowed the Seahawks to run out the clock.

In total Metcalf finished with seven catches for 160 yards — an NFL playoff record for a rookie in the Super Bowl era — and a touchdown. The 160 receiving yards were also a career high for the first-year player out of Mississippi, who at a muscular and athletic 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds is a rare physical specimen — one many, including Metcalf himself, expected to be a first-round draft pick.

“DK was special tonight,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said about the player selected with the last pick of the second round. “He’s been special all year, one of the best rookies that’s come out, and he has a nice little chip on his shoulder, too. I’m glad he’s on our team, that’s for sure. … Some people hit the rookie wall, there’s no such thing for him. He’s getting stronger.”

“I think falling to the second round is the best thing that happened to me, because I have a chip on my shoulder every time I play,” Metcalf, who had 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season, said when interviewed by NBC on the field following the game.

Seattle, the NFC’s No. 5 seed, advanced to face second-seeded Green Bay next week in the divisional round. That game will be at 3:40 p.m. Pacific Time in Green Bay, meaning the Seahawks will once again have to figure out how to win on the road. But that’s been the norm for a Seattle team that’s 8-1 on the road this season, including the playoffs.

Wilson, who saw his MVP credentials fade toward the end of the regular season, was back to his defense-baffling best Sunday. He made game-changing plays with both his arm and his feet, finishing 18-for-30 for 325 yards and one touchdown passing, and gaining 45 yards on nine carries. He was the key component in the Seahawks’ remarkable proficiency on third down, as Seattle was 8-for-15 and converted several third-and-longs.

Philadelphia, the No. 4 seed, came into the game with all kinds of injuries on offense. Then the Eagles suffered a critical blow in the first quarter when quarterback Carson Wentz took an unpenalized hit to the back of the head from Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The blow knocked him out of the game and angered Philadelphia players and fans.

Wentz’s replacement, 40-year-old back-fr0m-retirement Josh McCown, went 18-for-24 for 174 yards. However, McCown was also the victim of six sacks as Seattle’s much-maligned pass rush, inspired by a Clowney who appeared to have overcome the core muscle injury that’s bothered him in recent weeks, had seven on the day.

”We had a really nice night on defense overall,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “They moved the ball pretty good at times, but we kept them out of the end zone, which was really key, and without getting any turnovers it was a challenge. We had a bunch of sacks, and great red-zone defense made a big difference.

“I think the whole football game was third downs,” Carroll added. “We did great on third down on offense and had a big night on defense (the Eagles were 3-for-11). This was a really highly ranked third-down offense and defense in Philadelphia, and that’s what kept us going. Big, big, conversions by Russ, he was spectacular tonight in moving around and finding guys when we needed it in crucial situations. But I think the night was stolen by DK, he had a phenomenal night.”

The Metcalf show spanned the entire game, but it truly heated up midway through the third quarter. Seattle held a 10-6 lead when Wilson lofted a ball deep down the middle to Metcalf, who had sped behind the defense. Metcalf reached out, grabbed the ball with his fingertips, tumbled to the ground, rolled back onto his feet, then stretched into the end zone for a touchdown that made it 17-6.

The Eagles got a field goal to pull within one score at 17-9. Then, after Seattle stopped Philadelphia on fourth down for the second time in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks faced a third-and-10 at their own 11. But rather than running the ball and forcing the Eagles to burn their final timeout, the Seahawks instead dialed up the deep ball. Wilson again lofted the ball up, and Metcalf skied over the defenders for a 36-yard reception that allowed Seattle to run out the clock.

Seattle seemed to be the better team early, but the Seahawks couldn’t find the end zone until the final two minutes of the first half. The score was tied 3-3 when the Seattle embarked on a nine-play, 82-yard drive. David Moore set the scene with a breathtaking run after the catch, bouncing off a defender and weaving his way 38 yards to convert a third down and get the ball to the 5.

Two plays later, Wilson handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks legend who was signed out of retirement just a week earlier. Lynch conjured up visions of Beast Mode of the past, getting hit at the 2, but keeping his legs going and spinning into the end zone for a 5-yard TD that gave Seattle an important 10-3 halftime lead.

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