SEATTLE — It showed up in the stat sheet as just a single tackle.

It wound up being a critical play in the Seattle Seahawks' 23-15 NFC playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, though.

And for Seattle specialist and Portland State alumnus DeShawn Shead, it was the biggest play of his young NFL career.

With 1:18 remaining in the first half Saturday against New Orleans, the Seahawks had just taken a 16-0 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka.

On the kickoff, Hauschka booted the ball into the end zone. New Orleans return man Darren Sproles fielded the kick and tried to run it out of the end zone, down the left sideline.

Shead read the play perfectly. He saw a gap in the Saints' blocking scheme and flashed through it. Shead met Sproles at the 16-yard line and wrapped him up with a perfect form tackle.

“They did two wedges,” Shead said, of the Saints' return formation. “I ran down the field, and my job as a penetrator is to go down there and disrupt everything. As I was running down, I saw an opening — a path. I just took my shot and made a tackle.”

The play turned out to be significant in that it pinned the Saints deep in their own territory. Handcuffed, New Orleans was unable to generate the offensive mojo to move the ball down the field and score before halftime.

Five plays later, the Saints went into intermission with a goose egg on the scoreboard.

“We take pride in getting tackles behind the 20,” Shead said. “And every tackle to me is a big deal. When my opportunity comes and I see opportunities like that, I take advantage of it.”

Shead was a star member of Portland State’s secondary, starting all four years on the Park Blocks. After signing with the Seahawks as a free agent in 2012, he spent most of his first season with the team on the practice squad. He made the active roster in the last six games, but did not see any action.

Shead used his first year as a pro to learn from his teammates and become a better football player from a mental aspect.

“I learned a lot,” Shead said. “I grew each day. Sitting back I got to learn every week. It was kind of like a redshirt year. I just soaked in all the information and learned as I went.”

This season, Shead began starting on four special teams. On Seattle kickoff returns, he is on the front line. On Seattle punts, he is the gunner. On Seattle kickoffs, he is the penetrator. On Seattle punt returns, he is either doubling someone or in the box.

“I appreciate having this opportunity to play on special teams and play a role on this team,” Shead says. “That’s what it’s all about, playing your role — whatever it is — to make the team better. That’s my whole goal. I just want to have an impact.”

Shead’s ultimate goal is to be in Seattle’s defensive rotation. He is happy to help the Seahawks any way he can, though.

“If anyone goes down, I’m ready,” Shead said. “I prepare every week like I’m a starter, and I’m ready to play my role on this team. But I’m learning each game. I’m getting better and better each game.”

Shead is not looking past the NFC championship game at home next Sunday against either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers. But, should the Seahawks advance to the Super Bowl, it would be a dream come true for him.

“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Shead says. “We ain’t looking too far ahead. But to have an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl ... just to get a single snap in the Super Bowl, that would be a dream come true.”

If things go right, the Seahawks could play in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. That would put Shead on the opposite sideline of another former Viking, Broncos tight end Julius Thomas.

“That would be real cool,” Shead says. “Two teammates in college going against each other in the Super Bowl, that would be a wonderful opportunity.”

Regardless of what happens, Shead is happy that he has been able to represent the Vikings in the NFL.

“It’s very cool,” Shead said. “I’m glad I can represent Portland State and show out for Portland State. I went there for 4 1/2 years. I got my degree from there. That’s my school. We’re a smaller division school, so to represent them is a wonderful opportunity.”

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