By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — It’s rare for Russell Wilson to make a football game about anything other than his team. It’s not about how he can lead his team to victory, but rather how the offense, defense and special teams can work together to come out ahead.
But with Seattle’s playoff opener against New Orleans coming up Saturday, the Seahawks’ team-first quarterback can acknowledge that, group effort or not, quarterback play can make all the difference in the NFL, especially in the playoffs.
“It’s a complete team effort for our football team — it’s our defense, it’s our offense, it’s our guys that we have on offense, our special teams,” Wilson said, before conceding: “But if you think about the guys that are in the playoffs right now, the quarterbacks and all, it’s a testament to the quarterbacks’ hard work. To the football teams and how they prepare, how the quarterbacks prepare.
“I think to be a really good quarterback, you have to be clutch. You watch these past games, these past few weeks, a lot of guys have been clutch and made a lot of great plays, and you enjoy that. That’s what the game is supposed to be about, and that’s what the quarterback position is all about.”
If Wilson is going to be that clutch quarterback this postseason, he knows that means playing more like the quarterback he was through 12 games this season, when he was being discussed as a legitimate MVP candidate. He needs to perform like the player who blossomed into bona fide star in last year’s postseason, leading big road comebacks in consecutive weeks. He cannnot play like the quarterback who has posted a modest 57.8 percent completion percentage and 79.1 passer rating in Seattle’s last four regular-season games.
And let’s be clear on something here, Seattle’s offensive struggles down the stretch have to do with a lot more than Wilson. The running game has been off, the line play inconsistent and the receivers have not won some of the one-on-one battles they usually do. Add to that the fact that the Seahawks have faced some very good defenses of late and showed signs of progress after a slow start against St. Louis, Seahawks players and coaches are encouraged, not worried, about the offense.
Still, heading into his second postseason, this is the time for Wilson to leave no doubt that he not just a good young quarterback, but rather one of the greats. A player who deserves to be mentioned among the league’s very best, a group that includes other quarterbacks still playing this postseason like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
“The postseason is critical,” Wilson said. “You want to do great, you want to play at a high level and I think that to be a big-time player, you have to play big-time in big games and every big opportunity is a great opportunity to step up.”
History tells us Wilson will step up, both because he was so impressive under the postseason spotlight last year and because he had one of the best games of his career when Seattle hosted New Orleans last month. Wilson’s 2013 numbers were almost identical to those he posted in his rookie season, but across the board those who know him best see an improved player.
Asked how his team has improved from last year to this year, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll singled out the improved pass rush and Wilson’s growth. Add to that the fact that this will be Wilson’s second go-around at the playoffs, and that he’ll be playing at home, and there’s little reason to think he won’t thrive under playoff pressure. Again.
“The playoffs have so much focus and so much attention played on them that the guys can make a reputation for themselves in just the playoffs alone, and I think that added to Russell’s (rookie) season,” Carroll said. “He had great numbers in the postseason and to us, he seems to rise up and always capture the moment. So hopefully he can do that again here in this playoff run.”
And none of this is to imply that Wilson has to put up spectacular numbers like he did in the previous meeting against New Orleans, when he torched an aggressive Saints defense for 310 yards and three touchdowns, or in Atlanta in last year’s playoff loss, when he threw for 385 yards in to lead a spectacular comeback that was undone by a late Falcons score. The Seahawks’ defense is good enough, the offense balanced enough, that no one player, not even the quarterback, needs to do it all. Even so, this is increasingly a quarterback-driven league and will, as Richard Sherman notes, continue to be unless the rules change quite a bit. So these next few weeks are a great opportunity for Wilson to take another step forward in an already impressive career.
Yet for all the focus on Wilson’s ups (there have been many) and downs (few, but recent), what will help the Seahawks most this week is his ability to remain, to borrow one of his favorite phrases, the calm in the storm. From Day 1, Wilson has been abnormally steady, to the point his teammates weren’t sure it was real.
“He never changes, man, it’s crazy,” receiver Golden Tate said. “If he throws an 80-yard bomb to win the game or if he throws a pick in the fourth quarter, he’s going to be the same person at all times.
“I thought he was full of crap the first few weeks. It was like, ‘man, look it ain’t that serious. It’s serious, but you can kind of relax.’ But that’s who he is, that’s what’s gotten him to this point, and that’s what helps us win. So I’ll eat my words. I’m very happy to be playing here with him and watching him grow and growing with him, and I think we’re reaping the benefits.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.