Doug Baldwin: Third downs reason for his, Seahawks’ breakout

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No need for Doug Baldwin to be angry now.

Not after the biggest game of his scrapping, determined, five-year career.

The former undrafted free agent-turned-No. 1 Seahawks wide receiver set career highs with three touchdown catches and had 145 yards on six catches in eight targets from Russell Wilson.

Baldwin’s 80-yard catch across the middle beat the Steelers’ man coverage. His two stiff arms beat two more defenders on the catch-and-run with 2 minutes to go that clinched Seattle’s zany, 39-30 victory against Pittsburgh on Sunday at a rocking CenturyLink Field.

“I kept shaking my head like, ‘Russ, just give me a chance!’ And he did,” Baldwin said of his presnap look just before the third-and-10 from Seattle’s 20 — with the Seahawks a play away from giving Pittsburgh back the ball in a 32-30 game.

“He threw the ball a little early — it caught me,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the last time he had that experience was at Stanford, when Andrew Luck would throw early darts that would similarly “catch” him, instead of the other way around.

“It was as late as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “But fortunately enough my hands were already low, so I didn’t have to go far to catch it.”

Baldwin’s huge numbers, part of Wilson’s career-high five touchdown passes and 345 yards in the air, got all the attention. But Baldwin thinks the difference between Sunday — and the Seahawks being squarely in the NFC playoff picture — and three games ago, when they were 4-5 and thumped by Arizona, is on third downs.

Seattle was in the bottom third of the league in converting third downs into first downs, at around 37 percent for the season, after going 1 for 8 in the loss to the Cardinals on Nov. 15.

That’s when Baldwin was saying he took third-down numbers “personally.”

In the wins over San Francisco last week and now Pittsburgh, the Seahawks are a combined 15 for 27 on third-down conversions. That’s 55.5 percent. Seattle has scored 68 points, its biggest two-week output of the season.

“I keep saying this to you guys: Converting on third downs directly correlates to scoring,” Baldwin said.

“It keeps the defense off the field, which gives us a chance to win ballgames. That’s how we play football.”

That’s how they’ve gotten back in the playoff race.

Doug Baldwin: Third downs reason for his, Seahawks’ breakout