In leading the Seahawks back from a 13-point deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, Wilson made it abundantly clear on a rainy afternoon that he can be a playmaker for this offense, not just a facilitator.
Wilson showed signs that he and the offense were making strides in last week's win in Carolina, but this was different. In leading Seattle to a 24-23 victory, Wilson was much more than a quarterback trying to avoid mistakes so the running game, defense and special teams could squeak out a win. With 293 passing yards and three touchdowns, including the 46-yard game winner to wide receiver Sidney Rice, Wilson looked like the dynamic playmaker who played so well in the preseason that head coach Pete Carroll felt like he had no choice but to start the rookie over Matt Flynn, a free agent who signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract.
Sure the Seahawks wanted to run the ball. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin had 20 carries between them despite Seattle playing from behind for much of the game. But when New England made it a priority to take that away, Wilson made the plays to make the Patriots pay. And by the end of the day, Wilson had more touchdowns (3 to 2), fewer interceptions (0 to 2) and a better passer rating (133.7 to 79.3) than the Patriots' Tom Brady.
Following a loss in St. Louis, the talk of the town was the Seahawks' quarterback controversy. Two weeks later, Wilson made his coaches look smart, not stubborn, for sticking with him through the early ups and downs.
"I was in awe," said Seahawks' cornerback Richard Sherman. "He was a magician, he was magnificent, he did a heck of a job, and that's what they got him for. That's the reason he's starting. A lot of people have been doubting him, but I think he shut up all the doubters today. He beat Tom Brady, he beat Aaron Rodgers, and not a lot of rookies can do that."
And of course this doesn't mean Wilson's struggles are behind him. He will face better defenses than what New England threw at him Sunday, and he will make rookie mistakes, but this was still undoubtedly a breakthrough moment in Wilson's young career.
In the season opener, Wilson and Seattle's offense had a chance at a game-winning drive in Arizona and came up just short. In St. Louis, the Seahawks were in a similar position, and again couldn't capitalize. And as entertaining as Seattle's final-play win over Green Bay may have been, that was more fluke than a sign of progress. The Seahawks needed two touchdowns late in Sunday's game, and Wilson delivered. They needed to find a way to move the ball when the Patriots bottled up Lynch, holding him to 41 yards -- his lowest output since last October -- and Wilson was up to the task.
"I think it definitely helps with that experience," Wilson said of Seattle's previous close games. "Obviously I'm a rookie, but I've played a lot of football games in my lifetime, and to get little experiences and little nuggets of information from every game, that's got to be your goal."
Carroll saw progress in the passing game a week earlier, despite Wilson throwing a pick-six in the win in Carolina, but this was a considerable step forward.
"We have been coming with the throwing game, and we've found that Russell really does throw the ball really well down the field," Carroll said. "... All day he was battling and making things happen. Hopefully we keep moving ahead and keep running the football, and now take our shots when we get a chance and try to cause some more problems for our opponent."
And that last thing Carroll said was important. The Seahawks aren't suddenly going to make this offense revolve around Wilson. Lynch will get his carries, and the Seahawks will remain a run-first offense, but what Sunday showed is that Wilson is capable of airing it out when situations call for it. With Seattle on its own 17-yard line trailing by two scores, Wilson hit Golden Tate for a 51-yard gain. When the Seahawks were facing fourth-and-goal on that same drive, he found Braylon Edwards with a fade in the corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. On the final drive, Wilson started things out with a 9-yard run, then three plays later he threw a perfect strike to Rice for a 46-yard score.
It wasn't just late-game heroics for Wilson either. He started the game by completing seven of his first eight passes as Seattle took a 10-3 lead. Most notably, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin for a 50-yard gain after using his legs to keep the play alive. Making big plays from outside of the pocket was a priority this week, as was improving in the red zone, and Wilson helped the offense do both.
"This week, we made a big point to the whole receiving crew and the quarterbacks and everybody that is catching the ball that we have not taken advantage of Russell's movement," Carroll said. "He's been running and making yards, and we made a big deal about it this week that there are huge plays for us if we just look and fight harder to get open."
Wilson is far from a finished product. He is mature beyond his years, but he is still a rookie with six games of NFL experience under his belt. Still, this game felt like a potential breakthrough for Wilson, who showed when it mattered most that he can be a playmaker.
"I guarantee you now everybody's on the bandwagon," said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. "Like I've always said from the start, he's special. The way he prepares, I expect that out of him because he prepares. He prepares like a winner and he led us."
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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