By Chris Cluff
Golden Tate, WR #81
Hometown: Hendersonville, Tenn.
College: Notre Dame
Experience: 3 years
You know Pete Carroll’s philosophy has taken firm hold when an underachieving wide receiver known more for lazy routes and late-night doughnut runs becomes the Seahawks’ poster boy for big hits.
But that’s where Golden Tate sits this week after his head-snapping, cleat-lifting block against Dallas linebacker Sean Lee on Sunday.
That hit helped a scrambling Russell Wilson pick up 14 yards and a first down, and it was emblematic of the complete physical domination the Seahawks exhibited against the Cowboys in a 27-7 victory.
It also propelled Tate into the annals of Seattle’s best unexpected hits. Not since Steve Largent’s famous retributive strike against Denver’s Mike Harden in 1988 has a Seattle wide receiver drawn such notice for a hit.
Safety Kam Chancellor is the team’s top hit man these days — a mantle that once belonged to Largent’s teammate, Kenny Easley – and Tate told The News Tribune: “Now I see why Kam likes defense. Man, it felt great. That felt better than a touchdown to me.”
There has been plenty of speculation about whether Tate should have been penalized, since his helmet appeared to catch Lee under the chin. It appeared at the time that Tate had been flagged, but the officials instead had called an unnecessary foul against Dallas for hitting Wilson out of bounds (it was barely a shove).
Tate said he was trying to avoid a hit that would get him in trouble.
“We had a meeting a few weeks ago about what’s legal and what’s illegal, so I wanted to make it legal,” he told Paul Silvi of King 5′s “Fifth Quarter” postgame show. “I didn’t want to penalize my team and I didn’t want to get fined.”
No penalty, but it remains to be seen whether he gets fined.
The hit was the most explosive play Tate made Sunday in his season debut, but it wasn’t necessarily his most effective.
After missing the Week One with a sprained knee, Tate returned to catch three passes for 38 yards. And all were significant.
The first was a 20-yard gain in the second quarter as the Seahawks drove for a field goal. The second was a 10-yard catch on second-and-8 during Seattle’s third-quarter touchdown drive. And the other was an 8-yard gain on third-and-4 during the team’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive; that catch set up Seattle at the Dallas 3-yard line, and Marshawn Lynch scored on the next play.
Add the block that sprung Wilson, and Tate was key in four first downs.
It’s the kind of contribution the Seahawks have expected out of Tate since they drafted him in the second round in 2010. He had been a game-breaking receiver at Notre Dame, where he finished as the No. 3 receiver in school history, with 157 catches (for 2,707 yards and 26 touchdowns in 37 games).
He set school records with 93 receptions and 1,496 yards as a senior, tying the record of 15 touchdowns in a season, and he left as the No. 2 player in career all-purpose yards (4,130).
But undisciplined route running kept him on the Seahawks’ bench as a rookie, even though he had displayed a knack for big catches in practice. He finally started to get some time last season after injuries knocked out Mike Williams and Sidney Rice, finishing with 35 catches for 382 yards and three scores. And Tate entered this year as the starter at split end opposite Rice.
Tate was so confident that this was his year to step up that he was not interested in giving up No. 81 to Terrell Owens when the accomplished but mercurial wide receiver arrived in camp.
As Tate said then, “Me and No. 81 have been through a lot. We’ve been through doughnut shops and inactives — rock bottom — so I’m going to be loyal to No. 81. I just feel like I want to play in the No. 81 for the Seahawks for a long time. So I felt like it was more appropriate for me to go on and hold onto it.”
A smart choice, considering Owens lasted a mere two weeks with the team.
Tate missed the opener himself after suffering the knee injury when the coaches unwisely left him in late in the fourth preseason game to return punts.
But he was ready to go Sunday and, next to Lynch and tight end Anthony McCoy, was the most productive player on offense.
“I felt like the game has slowed down a whole lot from last year…because I have more knowledge of our offense and the game. So I’ve grown there and matured,” Tate told Silvi after his debut.
“Finally this year I put a camp together where they could rely on me to run the right route, to get the right depth, to be disciplined in my routes and blocking and let my athleticism take over after I’ve done all those things,” he said. “This year I felt like in camp I did a good job with setting it up. I got the trust of the organization, the coaches, the players, the scouts and everyone else, and I’m just moving from there.”
He did nothing in his first game to lose any of that trust, and Carroll even told reporters via Seahawks.com, “You can see he needs to get the ball more. He’s on fire. He is so electric with the ball. We just have to find more ways to get him the ball. You get the ball in his hands and something good looks like it’s going to happen.”
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.