By Gregg Bell | McClatchy News Service
RENTON — Less than two years ago, a doctor was telling DK Metcalf his football career was over.
“Heartbreaking,” he said.
Sunday night, he entered the realm of the becoming one of the league’s best.
By beating the best.
There are very few man-on-man, best-on-best showdowns anymore in specialized, sub-packaged pro football. Metcalf banging into, barking at and sometimes blowing by New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year, throughout Seattle’s home opener was a battle royale worth savoring and preserving.
“I thought DK was unbelievable,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said.
Metcalf thoroughly enjoyed every one of his four catches, every one of his 92 receiving yards — and especially his 54-yard touchdown pass from Wilson that tied the wild game at 14 in the second quarter.
Wilson saw Gilmore lined up again in man coverage in the slot to the right side. Metcalf ran with the league’s best cornerback deep down the field, made an inside move on a left diagonal as if on a post route, then cut sharply outside instead to the right on a flag pattern. Wilson boldly sent a soaring ball that dared Metcalf to run under it, and Gilmore to cover it. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Metcalf gave Gilmore a beastly lean as Wilson’s perfectly placed ball arrived. Gilmore fell off Metcalf as water does a cliff. Metcalf just about walked in for a startling touchdown.
“It was maybe as perfect as the one they hit last week,” coach Pete Carroll said, referring to Wilson connecting with Metcalf for a 38-yard score on fourth down in the Seahawks’ opening win at Atlanta.
According to the NFL Next Gen stats service, it was the first time in two years Gilmore allowed a touchdown as the nearest, primary defender to a receiver.
Gilmore credited Wilson, not Metcalf.
“It happens,” Gilmore said. “I think I was in good position.
“Russell Wilson threw a good ball…. I kept my leverage but he threw a good ball where I couldn’t get it, so hats off to him.”
It was physical
It also was a three-hour WWE wresting match.
More than once, Metcalf and Gilmore went after each other well after a play ended. They rammed into each other when some plays were 40 yards away, on the field’s opposite side.
“It was a good opportunity for me,” Metcalf said. “He made the match-up difficult, in my opinion.
“A great defender. My hats off to him.”
That’s a lot of hats between two guys who would have been more appropriate wearing body armor Sunday night.
Once, on a running play, Metcalf blocked Gilmore into the sideline boundary, past the first, second and third line of Seahawks players watching from behind the sideline and into the metal benches that are about 10 yards off the field. Seahawks players and coaches scattered, hollered, massed then finally intervened.
Gilmore then went back at Metcalf. Metcalf grabbed and tugged on Gilmore’s face mask amid all the people trying to separate them.
Somehow, no one got penalized for that melee long after the play ended well up the field from them.
Asked about that incident, Metcalf said: “Like I said, it was just a physical game, and we were just going at it like two football players.”
Carroll said he admired how professionally and respectfully Metcalf handled the challenge of facing Gilmore. The coach said Metcalf got up to the line of appropriate emotion, and that he was yelling at his young receiver not to cross it, and that Metcalf never did.
“They were battling right from the get-go, almost duking it out right off the bat,” Carroll said. “I thought DK really competed.”
Metcalf called it the most physical test he’s had in his 20 NFL games played so far.
“Yes, sir. That was probably the most physical I’ve been with any DB in my whole career,” he said.
“Not just (Gilmore), but the McCourty twins, J.C. Jackson (also in the Patriots’ secondary), they all brought it.”
Metcalf did, too. Again.