SEATTLE – Nate Burleson didn't bury his head or hide from his teammates. Instead, he stood on the sideline and cheered on his defensive teammates, greatly hoping they would help absolve him from being the game's goat.
"After something like that happened, I wanted to yell as hard as I (could) and hopefully give them a little something extra," the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver said, referring to the sequence in which his misjudged kickoff resulted in a free ball recovered by the Washington Redskins at the Seahawks' 13-yard line with 12:36 remaining. "They did the job."
Whether Seattle's defense should get a majority of the credit for forcing the Redskins to kick a short field goal – or thank their lucky stars Shaun Suisham missed the 30-yarder that would have extended the visitors' lead – is up for debate. Regardless, Seattle caught a big break early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 35-14 NFC wild-card victory over the Redskins at Qwest Field that sends the Seahawks to the second round of the playoffs for a tilt at the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 12.
"The missed field goal was a key momentum change that would have given them just a little bit bigger lead. It would have had them believing that much more," Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney said. "(That miss) really fed us a great deal of energy and a great deal of emotion. From that point on, things went well, and we just took control of the game."
Kerney is right on at least the first half of the equation.
"It's our destiny. This is about to go our way," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher thought when Anthony Mix recovered the kickoff after Santana Moss' 30-yard touchdown reception had given Washington a 14-13 lead. "We're about to take this game over. We're going to Dallas."
Exactly what happened to make Fletcher and his teammates think they were destined to continue their season-ending surge that began shortly after the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor was something Burleson still couldn't explain after the game.
"I don't want to blame it on the wind," Burleson said. "It just seemed like it hung up there a long time and then dropped down. Once I realized I couldn't get to it, I tried to catch myself and catch it off the bounce, but it was coming down too fast and went over my head."
Perhaps more inexplicable than the free ball situation that Washington squandered was a miscommunication between quarterback Todd Collins and Moss that led to the first of two interception returns for touchdowns by the Seahawks.
On first-and-10 after Seattle had moved ahead 21-14 with a Matt Hasselbeck scoring strike to Burleson, the Redskins called for a "pump" on the outside to Moss. What happened between the throw and Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant waltzing into the end zone is somewhat of a mystery.
Moss came off the snap and cut inside. He then broke toward the sideline. With the ball in the air, just floating toward the sideline, the receiver stopped.
"I just thought it was a dead play," Moss said. "I looked back and I'm not hearing nothing. I'm not seeing anything. At the last minute, I just see the guy catch the ball."
Trufant did indeed catch the ball – and moved toward putting an end to Washington's miraculous run. While Moss and the Redskins were a little slow to react, Trufant headed the other way, getting enough blockers along his journey to comfortably put Seattle ahead 28-14 with 5:39 left.
"I didn't really see it. I was on my back when the ball was in the air," said Collins, throwing his first two interceptions this season after replacing an injured Jason Campbell in Week 14 against the Chicago Bears.
For the Redskins, it was the beginning of the end of a four-game winning streak that saw them overcome a 5-7 mark and beat long odds to reach the postseason. For Seattle, it marked the second year in a row that a home loss was a very real fourth-quarter possibility before something strange happened to keep its season alive.
Almost a year ago to the day, Seattle clung to a one-point lead as the Cowboys lined up for a go-ahead field goal with 1:19 left. And as has been well-documented, Tony Romo mishandled the snap, preserving the Seahawks' lead and securing the victory for Seattle.
One year later, the Seahawks are poised to rewrite a bit of their own playoff history.
"I'll just say it right now," Hasselbeck said from the podium, smiling, as he looked at the media members Saturday. "We want the ball, and we're gonna score."
Hasselbeck was referring to the infamous statement he uttered following the overtime coin flip of the first-round playoff loss to the Packers four years ago.
No question, Burleson and the defense are ready to back him up.