SEATTLE - Seattle Seahawks (9-6) wide receiver Doug Baldwin neared the end of his postgame press conference following a 38-31 victory over Kansas City (11-4) at CenturyLink Field Sunday night in which he put forth his best performance of the season to help the Seahawks clinch a wild card playoff berth when the final question came regarding what this injury-filled season has been like for him.
Baldwin's response revealed a man who has fought through pain and frustration, to be there as much as possible for his teammates during what has been one of the least productive seasons of his eight-year career.
"Ha. This year has been hell," Baldwin said. "This year has been absolutely hell. I've been...oh my goodness. We don't have enough time for that. It's been hell. But I'm so grateful to be healthy enough to be on the field with my teammates to celebrate victories and just enjoying playing football again, just like a kid."
On Sunday night with a nation of NFL fans watching, Baldwin rediscovered that magic that made him a two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion with the Seahawks. He tied a season high with seven receptions for a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown. His yardage output amounted to 21.3 percent of his season total of 591 yards, which is the second lowest of his career with one game remaining next Sunday at home against Arizona (3-12).
Because of various injuries - mostly a knee injury that caused him to miss virtually all of training camp - Baldwin has missed three games and never has been 100 percent in the games in which he has played. However, over the last six weeks with Seattle making a playoff push, Baldwin has stepped up his game with 25 receptions for 316 yards and all five of his touchdown receptions on the season coming in five appearances (he missed the team's Monday night win over Minnesota on Dec. 10). The Seahawks (9-6) are 5-1 during that stretch after starting the season 4-5.
With Baldwin seemingly back to top form, Seattle's offense has perfect balance with the league's top rushing attack, which amassed 210 yards on the ground in Sunday's win.
"Obviously, Doug was great tonight, as always," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said.
The clear path to victory for Seattle Sunday night involved getting mean and nasty. Be physical. Force the issue. Issue the force. Bring Kansas City's finesse approach to offensive football to its knees while pounding that paper mache defense to a pulp.
Seattle did plenty of both but Kansas City superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes II is no joke. He nearly single-handedly took down the Seahawks with 273 yards passing and three touchdowns. In the end, simply running the ball well on Kansas City wasn't going to do the trick. The Seahawks needed to make plays in the passing game. They needed Baldwin to be Baldwin.
For all that Baldwin did well on this night, his performance can best be summed up by two plays. In the third quarter, he made a leaping, twisting grab while landing on the front pylon of the left side of the end zone for a 27-yard score to give the Seahawks a 24-17 lead with 45 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Seattle ultimately led 31-20 and then 31-28 after Mahomes put together a 72-yard scoring drive and ran in a two-point conversion with 4:36 remaining on the clock. At that moment, it appeared logical that Seattle would look to grind out the clock with running back Chris Carson, who had 116 yards on the day. However, Kansas City anticipated that plan of attack and responded by stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run while leaving its cornerbacks in man coverage on Baldwin and wide receiver Tyler Lockett.
First, Lockett got loose for a 41-yard reception down the right sideline while barely staying in bounds as he fell to the ground at the Kansas City 21-yard line.
"Savage for that," Baldwin said of his teammate.
After a sack of Wilson, he turned to Baldwin down the left sideline with a deep pass that appeared to be out of Baldwin's reach. Baldwin, the third receiver inside, said he thought he had made a good release on cornerback Charvarius Ward, who got a little too handsy and grabbed him, earning a defensive holding penalty that ultimately didn't matter. Running a corner route, Baldwin shook off Ward, pushed vertical to the corner, got his head around in time to locate Wilson's lobbed pass, reached out with his right hand and tipped to ball back to himself for the reception before being taken down by Ward at the one-yard line.
"Fortunately enough, Russ threw a beautiful ball, gave me an opportunity to make a play and I came up with it," Baldwin said.
Carson finished off the drive with a one-yard run to give his team a 38-28 lead with 2:33 remaining in the game. That drive, Baldwin said, was all about Seattle's receivers delivering when called upon.
"We don't care about how many targets we've had throughout the course of the game or what the numbers are, we're savages," Baldwin said. "When it's our time to make plays and we're given an opportunity to make plays, we are going to make them."
Lockett said having a healthy Baldwin on the field changes games for Seattle.
"Every time he's out there we know that when the ball is in the air he's going to go out there and make that play," Lockett said. "You've seen it. When that looked like it was too far he made that catch to be able to get us to the one or two yard line."
That play almost didn't happen. A few plays earlier, Baldwin seemingly had a sure reception but the ball got knocked away by defensive back Tremon Smith. On the play, Baldwin tweaked his ankle and left the game before quickly returning to set up the game-winning touchdown.
"I've never seen Doug play better than that," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "I just thought he was magnificent. Just tough catch after tough catch, then he gets his ankle twisted and he comes back and makes the big play after that. Just heroic stuff."
Despite his great performance, Baldwin had little to say about himself on this night.
"As a great 21st century philosopher once said, 'I'm just here so I don't get fined,'" Baldwin said when asked about his night while referring to former Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch's famously repeated statement during media sessions leading up to Super Bowl XLIX when he declined to answer media questions.
Baldwin felt more compelled to talk about his team, which has pulled together to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
"It's not just about football," Baldwin said. "These are great human beings. Great men. And when you put that combination of great men together with the right mentality, resiliency and perseverance, and actually care for one another.... It's a beautiful thing to see men come together and care for each other and really play for each other. You can't put it into words. You really can't."
He just did.