Rookie Golden Tate shines in first appearance

Among the things coach Pete Carroll liked in Sunday’s 31-14 loss to the Broncos were the big plays turned by rookie Golden Tate as a receiver and returner.

DENVER – Golden Tate was less than a nonfactor in the Seahawks’ season-opening victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The team’s second-round draft choice wasn’t even active.

Sunday, however, the rookie receiver/returner was the X-factor in a 31-14 loss to the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field.

Tate was almost as torrid as the temperate (91 degrees at kickoff) in returning a punt 63 yards and hooking up with Matt Hasselbeck for a 52-yard pass play. The third-quarter punt return set up the Seahawks’ first touchdown. The pass play should have led to another, but the drive ended abruptly when Hasselbeck’s out-of-options pass into the end zone on fourth-and-2 sailed incomplete.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Seahawks, now 1-1 but still tied for the NFC West lead.

“You give the game away because you give the ball up like we did four times,” Carroll said after the disappointing but not completely disheartening loss. “Aside from that, we did some better things today; some things to build on.”

Tate wielded one of the larger hammers.

“The fact that Golden got out there and had a chance to help us and did in a big way was really good to see,” Carroll said.

Tate got his opportunity, in part, because split end Mike Williams bruised a thigh in the opener and was not full speed against the Broncos. So it was decided that having all five wide receivers active was the prudent approach.

“This last week, just going through (training) camp and all, Golden was still a little behind in doing things right,” Carroll said. “He’s working real hard at it and he’s going to get it done.

“But he did show. He did show the stuff that we’d seen where he can make plays and make things happen. That was just a marvelous run on the return. But also on the catch, too.”

Ah, the catch. Tate made a nice reaching grab of a pass along the sideline and then turned it up field for another big gain.

Tate, of course, credited Hasselbeck for making “a great throw.”

But Carroll countered that by offering, “Golden obviously has a knack. I love the natural athleticism and toughness that he has, and his ability to break tackles. It’s one of the things we liked about him coming out. He was different from other receivers in that way.”

Yet he still has a ways to go before he is as polished as a receiver must be to consistently make plays in this league.

It was during training camp that Hasselbeck called Tate “electric” when he gets hands on the ball. It also was Hasselbeck who pointed to Tate’s inability to grasp some of nuances of playing wide receiver at this level after the rookie sat out the opener.

Hasselbeck didn’t alter either assessment after Sunday’s game.

“Like I said, Golden does the things you can’t really coach; he does those things really well,” said Hasselbeck, who threw for one of the Seahawks’ touchdowns and ran for the other. “The things that you can coach, he probably still needs to improve.

“But he helped us out in a big-time way today. We needed someone to step up and make some big plays. He did that. That’s something we know he can do.”

Just don’t ask Tate how he’s able to do those things.

He broke the long punt return after spinning away from a wall of would-be tacklers and racing to the sideline before cutting to the middle of the field.

“I never remember what happens,” Tate said when asked about the spin turning into something golden. “I just remember I ran for a long time and I was tired. It’s just securing the ball, being myself, trying to make plays.”

That return came after Carroll had a little chat with Tate as he was fielding punts while looking into the sun during pre-game warm-ups.

“Coach Carroll knows the game; he knows that I played baseball,” Tate said. “He knows that I dealt with the sun many, many times. That was one of the issues in warm-ups. He told me, ‘We’re going to get you in there. When they’re punting this way, we want you in.’

“I got my chance and I think I showed I can do this. In baseball, if you can’t play in the sun, you can’t play baseball. And he knew that.”

Carroll also knows why even Tate’s difference-making plays couldn’t make a difference on this day, at this venue – where the Broncos have now won 10 consecutive home openers.

The Broncos converted 14 of 20 third-down situations in fashioning scoring drives of 81, 91, 80 and 80 yards. The Seahawks, meanwhile, turned the ball over four times – Hasselbeck’s three interceptions and a punt that rookie Walter Thurmond muffed in the first quarter to set up the Broncos’ first TD.

Tate’s two big plays were islands of hope in the ocean of missed opportunities.

“You know, for me I guess it’s good to show the coaches that I can make play, but we didn’t win,” he said. “So that means nothing. I can have 3,000 yards in the game and if we don’t win that doesn’t mean anything.”