Here Comes Trouble
The Seahawks waited, and waited, and waited. And then they almost gave up. But finally, this weekend, all that waiting will pay off as Percy Harvin takes the field against the Saints. And now that the waiting is over, there's no holding back
RENTON, Wash. — This is the time of year when the best teams are losing players or coping with diminished ones. New England’s second-leading tackler, Brandon Spikes, was IR’d this week as the Patriots prepare to face Indy. Chargers center Nick Hardwick and Saints corner Keenan Lewis are gamely trying to return from concussions. In advance of playing Tom Brady, the Colts lost a starting corner, Greg Toler, with a groin injury.
Then there’s Seattle. Percy Harvin spent the week frolicking around the Seahawks’ indoor practice field, looking for the first time like the most dangerous player in the league, which he might have been 15 months ago. You probably don’t remember this—seems like a career ago—but the last time Harvin was healthy, midway through the 2012 season, he was a legitimate NFL MVP candidate. He was on pace for a 120-catch season through eight games, and, as the league’s most dangerous kick returner, was averaging 35.9 yards a return.
Then he disappeared.
First there was an ankle injury that never improved, forcing him on season-ending injured reserve 13 months ago. That ended his Minnesota career, and he was traded in a monster deal (and for a monster new contract) to Seattle. But last summer, he couldn’t sprint without hip pain, and doctors found a labrum tear in his hip that required August surgery. He came back—almost certainly too soon—against Minnesota Nov. 17 and re-aggravated the hip injury. So in the last 24 games his team has played, Harvin has played a third of one of them, 20 offensive snaps, and the rest of the time he’s been swimming, bike-riding or lightly boxing—anything to keep the pressure off his hip so he could strengthen it in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, he could come back and play this postseason.
It’s happening. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Thursday Harvin will take the field Saturday afternoon when the NFC’s top seed, Seattle, which has earned said seed with precious little help from its explosive new toy, opens its postseason against New Orleans. “He’s gonna play, and I’m not going to restrict him in any way,” Carroll told The MMQB. And not just as a receiver: “He’ll return kicks.”
“I feel very confident,” Harvin said Thursday, after his second straight strenuous practice at the team’s indoor facility on a dreary day in Seattle. “I feel very good. I’m going to give it all I have.”
Harvin isn’t fully healthy, but the team believes he has reached a point in his rehabilitation where he can contribute as a receiver and returner with only a minimal chance of re-injuring himself. Eleven days ago, Carroll approached Harvin and told him the team might have to put him on injured-reserve if he wasn’t ready to try to return to the field. Harvin told Carroll, “Coach, I’m ready to play ball.” He practiced some last week, and had his second straight day of pain-free work this week Thursday.
“We just waited it out as long as we could,” said Carroll.
With the Saints already down two corners—Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson—and with green corner Corey White coming off a second-half burning by DeSean Jackson last week in Philadelphia, the addition of Harvin to Seattle’s arsenal could turn this game into New Orleans’ third straight nightmare trip to the great Northwest..
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My home-heavy picks for the weekend, after my disastrous (but what else is new?) 1-3 weekend to open the postseason:
Seahawks 27, Saints 20. The only way for the Saints to win, I believe, is for Drew Brees to play relatively mistake-free, which he hasn’t done for the last three road games. He’s thrown two interceptions in each of the last three, lost two, and was bailed out by a strong second half last week in Philadelphia. But it’s clearly fixable; Sean Payton knows what works and what doesn’t for Brees, so I expect he’ll play better here. I just think Seattle has too many weapons for a beleaguered Saints secondary to handle.
Patriots 30, Colts 25. This may not be a Brady-Luck game. It may be a Blount-Brown game. The Pats and Colts defenses were 24th and 25th, at 4.46 and 4.47 yards per rush, and each has a dangerous edge rush. And can’t you just see Bill Belichick in his office at 5 one morning this week, running T.Y. Hilton tape back and forth, forth and back, looking for clues how to stop the Colts’ deep threat? Good thing Belichick’s got a smart center fielder, Devin McCourty, at his disposal.
Niners 16, Panthers 12. Defense was dead in the Wild Card round. Not here. Colin Kaepernick will use Michael Crabtree just enough, and the bum knee of Steve Smith (if he even plays) will be a huge loss for Cam Newton. One proviso on this: The cat-quick Carolina linebackers (watch for Thomas Davis dropping stealthily into coverage in some zone blitzes) could turn this game if Kaepernick is careless against Davis and Luke Kuechly.
Broncos 30, Chargers 24. More collective breath-holding in a Peyton Manning playoff game.
Which would be as good a championship Sunday as any in memory, potentially. Early on Jan. 19, if my cloudy crystal ball is right for once: New England at Denver. Late: San Francisco at Seattle. That’s the kind of doubleheader that makes the NFL think: Maybe we should give each championship game its own day. I’d vote for that.