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Originally published September 26, 2010 at 7:16 PM | Page modified September 26, 2010 at 9:43 PM

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Washington's two kick returns for TDs lift Seahawks over Chargers, 27-20

Leon Washington rushed for a 101 yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers. Washington later returned another kickoff 99 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning score as the Seahawks defeated the Chargers 27-20.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Longest kickoff returns

Leon Washington's big returns Sunday were the best ever by a Seahawk. The top five, by yardage:

101

Washington,

vs. Chargers,

Sept. 26, 2010

99

Washington,

vs. Chargers,

Sept. 26, 2010

97

James Jefferson,

vs. Chiefs,

Oct. 8, 1989

97

Maurice Morris,

vs. Rams,

Oct. 20, 2002

94

Zachary Dixon,

vs. Rams,

Nov. 13, 1983

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Leon Washington jogged back from history, returning toward Seattle's bench after becoming the first Seahawk to score on two kickoff returns in the same game.

Washington's 99-yard return had just restored Seattle's lead over San Diego, and he turned toward the fans in the north end zone, shrugged his shoulders and turned his palms up toward the sky. Even he was at a loss for an explanation.

That's what kind of game it was — tough to describe and almost impossible to believe.

The Seahawks didn't just beat the Chargers 27-20. They beat the Chargers despite being outgained 379-26 in the second half. They beat the Chargers despite the fact Washington scored more touchdowns on special teams (two) than Seattle's offense managed (one). Seattle won despite losing one touchdown because of a fumble at the goal line and failing to score at the end of the first half despite having the ball at the 1.

And after forcing five turnovers, Seattle won only after surviving two fourth-down passes into the end zone. The first fell incomplete, and the second was intercepted by rookie safety Earl Thomas.

Only then could Seattle exhale.

"All I can say is wow," cornerback Kelly Jennings said.

All of Seattle can second that after sweating through a victory over one of the NFL's playoff contenders. The Chargers have made the playoffs five of the past six seasons, which made the victory a validation even if it was a lot harder than it should have been.

"I love this today," coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not the way you draw it up, but it is what it was."

Unexpected and unprecedented — that sounds about right for Sunday's game.

Seattle had not returned any kickoffs for a touchdown since 2007. The Seahawks hadn't allowed a safety since 2007, either, but they gave up one of those as part of San Diego's rally.

The Chargers trailed 17-0 after Washington's first touchdown. They tied it 20-20 with 6:32 left, setting the stage for Washington's second score.

And even after that, Seattle had to survive San Diego moving the ball inside the Seahawks' 20-yard line twice in the final 3 minutes. Twice, the Seahawks defense kept the Chargers out of the end zone to preserve the victory.

"It's just grit and the determination of these guys to get it done," Carroll said.

Really, it shouldn't have been that close. Seattle led 10-0 at halftime, but should have been ahead twice that — at least. Deion Branch scored on a 42-yard pass just after the two-minute warning, only to have the score reversed after a review determined the Chargers' Paul Oliver had stripped the ball at the 1. The ball went out of the end zone, resulting in a turnover and touchback for San Diego.

Less than a minute after that miscue, Seattle scored its first touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck to John Carlson. The Chargers fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Seattle had another chance to score with the ball at the San Diego 2 with 19 seconds left. Seattle called a quarterback draw, Hasselbeck was tackled at the 1, and time ran out before the Seahawks could snap the ball for a field-goal attempt.

But for all Seattle's missed opportunities and all of San Diego's yards, after the game was over Chargers coach Norv Turner was asked if his team was underachieving, while Carroll took one more tour through his locker room before going to answer questions in the news conference.

He slapped hands with defensive lineman Junior Siavii, recalled certain plays while talking to Jennings and then hugged Carlson.

A young team with a new coach had just stared down a furious rally and refused to blink.

"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "One of the best teams in the league going against a young team that's starting to believe in ourselves, starting to gain that trust within our group, just really looking for an identity.

"And I think it was a big step toward that today."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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