RENTON — With a first-round bye, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll could take in the wild-card playoff games from a fan’s perspective.
And his major takeaway? “The performance level of the quarterbacks across the board was really, really exciting to see,” he said Monday morning in a brief chat with local media.
He then captured the critical nugget of the winning efforts, the element that sets them apart, that allows them to elevate their teams: “Guys … really lived up to the moment.”
That, fans, is why elite quarterbacks get the fattest contracts, the best endorsements, and, in one case, Giselle Bundchen.
They live up to the moment.
This is why franchises are so willing to surrender stacks of draft picks and fork over preposterous salaries in hopes of finding the quarterback with not just talent and skills, but also that knack for timely excellence.
The value may be more obvious than ever this week as eight teams head into the divisional round of the post-season.
The eight quarterbacks remaining have been to 40 Pro Bowls and won six league MVP awards. Six are this year’s Pro Bowlers, with the other two being Andrew Luck (a Pro Bowler last season) and Colin Kaepernick (who took San Francisco to Super Bowl XLVII).
Conspicuously, on Saturday, Luck led his Colts to a win over Kansas City despite a 28-point deficit in the second half. Although Alex Smith’s statistics were similar, Luck executed an improbable play that turned the momentum, being in the right spot to pluck a running back’s fourth-quarter fumble and dive into the end zone for the touchdown himself.
And on Sunday, even losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers lived up to his moment, making a fourth-down escape of rare athleticism (abetted by officials’ myopia) to get a crucial completion that gave Green Bay a fourth-quarter lead. But the Niners earned the 23-20 win because Kaepernick came up with a few more timely plays when it was his turn.
This week, expect more of the same.
The matchups seem almost pre-arranged for their theatric appeal.
In order, on Saturday, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Seattle’s Russell Wilson duel for the Sub-6-foot Championship belt. Brees passed for more than 5,000 yards for the fourth time this season.
Wilson always looked up to Brees because he was the one great quarterback that he didn’t literally have to look up to.
In Saturday’s second game, Luck visits New England and Tom Brady, who has 17 playoff wins, three Super Bowl rings and the aforementioned Brazilian supermodel.
Kaepernick and the Niners open Sunday’s play against Carolina and Cam Newton, in a matchup of two of the most physically gifted and versatile quarterbacks in the game.
And the weekend wraps up with San Diego and Philip Rivers visiting Denver and Peyton Manning. Rivers is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and this year’s most accurate passer (69.5 percent). Manning set the single-season mark for pass yards while locking up his record fifth NFL MVP award.
Wilson’s post-season experience is limited but historic, as he led comebacks in both games on the road last season, leading to a win at Washington and a last-minute lead at Atlanta that Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan overcame.
But in that Atlanta loss, he set a record for most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in a post-season game with 385. It had been held by Sammy Baugh since 1937.
On 710ESPN radio Monday morning, Carroll said that the experience will be valuable for Wilson come Saturday.
“He’s been through it … in extremely difficult situations,” Carroll said. “It was a phenomenal comeback in Atlanta.”
After that loss, Wilson made it clear that he was already looking forward to finding ways to get the Seahawks back into the playoffs and making a deeper run.
Because that’s what these few, elite quarterbacks do. They can get in the huddle and convince teammates they can win even if down by four touchdowns. They can turn fumbles into touchdowns.
They not only live up to these moments, they live for them.