This was always going to be one of those once in a decade quarterback classes, even before Russell Wilson announced his arrival from what is arguably the loneliest outpost in the NFL.
Everyone expected big things out of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. Wilson was more of a pleasant surprise, catapulted from third-round obscurity to what passes for football stardom in a city far removed from the media spotlight.
Now he’s the only rookie quarterback left in the playoffs. Next thing you know, he’ll get some Subway commercials of his own — or maybe something even better.
A rookie quarterback winning a Super Bowl? The way Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have been playing, the notion is no longer so unimaginable.
On a Sunday that was painful for RG3 and brutal for Luck, it was the undersized and once-unappreciated Wilson who emerged a star. He played with the calmness and efficiency of a veteran, rallying the Seahawks from a 14-0 deficit against the Washington Redskins almost before he had a chance to fasten his chin strap.
And if you didn’t know enough about him before, one look at Wilson racing downfield to block for Marshawn Lynch on the go-ahead touchdown should get everyone excited about this kid.
“Marshawn always tells me, ‘Russ I got your back,’” Wilson said. “I let him know I have his back, too.”
What was billed as a matchup of young stars turned into a mismatch of sorts when Griffin reinjured the knee he sprained a month ago and limped noticeably from the first quarter on. He wasn’t coming out, and coach Mike Shanahan wasn’t taking him out, a pair of decisions that will be debated.
Football is a game of pain, and Griffin played on. But a running quarterback who can’t run is not exactly a recipe for playoff success, and he struggled mightily.
When the night finally ended for him late in the fourth quarter, he lay crumpled on the turf at FedEx Field after fumbling and then collapsing with his leg twisted around him in a frightening moment for anyone watching. Among those who were watching was Wilson, who went to a knee and prayed for his fellow rookie.
“He’s a tremendous football player,” Wilson said. “I just prayed he was all right.”
Just how bad the injury is won’t be known until Griffin gets an MRI on Monday. He said after the 24-14 loss that he wasn’t sure himself whether he had further injured it.
But the dreadlocked rookie star made it clear that standing on the sideline watching the game wasn’t an option. He carried the Redskins into the playoffs, and they weren’t going to play without him.
“I had to go out there and do what I could to help the team win,” he said. “Period.”
It was a disconcerting end to a spectacular season for Griffin, whose personality and promise got him sandwich shop commercials even before he started winning games for the Redskins. He and Luck started the year as the most talked about pair of quarterbacks coming into the NFL in years, and both lived up to their billing by carrying their teams into the playoffs.
Luck, though, couldn’t overcome a Baltimore defense fired up by the pending retirement of Ray Lewis. Luck was pressured all day, and his receivers dropping six passes didn’t help as Indianapolis was eliminated 24-9 by the Ravens.
And while Griffin looked as though he would pile up some points for the Redskins by opening the game with two touchdown drives, he felt the knee go while planting to pass on the second drive and was never the same. By halftime, his team was barely clinging to the lead, and he faced a talk with Shanahan about his immediate future.
On that, both agreed. He had gotten them this far, and deserved the chance to take them even further.
“He said, ‘Trust me, I want to be in there. I deserve to be in there,’” Shanahan said. “I couldn’t disagree with him.”
Almost lost in the debate over whether Griffin should have stayed in was that Wilson still had some work to do to bring the Seahawks back. He did it on a fourth-quarter drive that Lynch capped off a 27-yard, broken-field run — with Wilson barreling ahead of him to block at the goal line.
That’s hardly surprising because the quarterback that even Seattle didn’t really seem to want when training camp opened — the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a lucrative offseason deal to be their No. 1 — always seems to flourish when it matters most. Wilson doesn’t play with the proverbial chip on his shoulder because he felt slighted in the NFL draft, but the whole team plays that way because Seattle wasn’t even in the postseason discussion when the year began.
“I don’t know,” Wilson said when asked if he had felt left out of the rookie quarterback discussion. “The goal is to win a lot of games and help my football team win games. That’s all I know.”
Something else Wilson should know is he’s two wins away from being the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks will have to do it on the road, but they’re peaking at just the right time and are just slight underdogs in Atlanta next Sunday.
Who knows, soon there may be a lot of people ending their sentences with a “Go ‘Hawks!” the way Wilson likes to end his. If it sounds a bit collegiate, just remember he is still a rookie quarterback.
Only now there’s something different. He’s the only one left.