By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Russell Wilson doesn’t really enjoy talking about Russell Wilson, so it was hardly surprising that the Seattle Seahawks quarterback avoided the question about his MVP candidacy.
“The talk about the MVP thing, I don’t worry about that,” Wilson said. “All I care about is just trying to win football games.”
Then, Wilson being Wilson, he went on to give credit to his offensive line, four different receivers, Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller and even backups Robert Turbin and Luke Willson. Yup, Luke Willson is the reason Wilson is being talked about as an MVP candidate.
Yet even if Wilson doesn’t want to talk about how well he’s playing right now, his play of late, as well as the Seahawks’ success, has made him into, as 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio put it, a “legitimate” MVP candidate.
When San Francisco came to Seattle in Sept., then later when the Seahawks went to Indianapolis, much of the talk leading up to the game was about how Wilson compared to a fellow young quarterback. Yet with the Seahawks playing in San Francisco Sunday with a chance to clinch the NFC West, the question now isn’t where Wilson ranks amongst the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, it’s where he ranks amongst the game’s best quarterbacks, period.
That’s not to say Wilson is a lock to have a better career than any of those other young quarterbacks, but right now he and his team are both playing at a higher level. Right now, Wilson’s quarterbacking peers are named Manning, Brees and (when healthy) Rodgers — not Luck, Griffin or Kaepernick.
“He’s playing at a high level,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “The numbers are there, the team is doing well and he obviously deserves a lot of credit. I would definitely put him in that category. I don’t see a quarterback, other than possibly Peyton Manning, who is playing better.”
Ah yes, Manning. As MVP worthy as Wilson has been this year, he’s fighting quite the uphill battle for the league’s top individual award.
The realities of Seattle’s balanced offense mean Wilson won’t come close to matching Manning’s numbers — Manning has 480 pass attempts to Wilson’s 305 — and with the Broncos sitting at 10-2, he, too, can be in the “best player on the best team” argument.
But even if Wilson can’t put up the numbers to pass Manning, stop for a second and think how crazy it is that we’re even having this conversation. In April of 2012, Wilson was a surprise third-round pick for a team that had just signed a presumed starter in Matt Flynn.
As late as August of last year, we still didn’t even know who would be starting, and after four games last season, there was a lot of debate over whether Flynn should replace Wilson as the starter. And now, just a little over a year after a lot of people wondered if he was ready for the job, Wilson is by any measure one of the best and most valuable players in the NFL.
Of course that same drive that has allowed Wilson to accomplish so much in less than two years is also why he is less impressed with his success than is anyone watching from the outside.
“I’ve always expected to do well and I expect to do better to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I think I can always do something better and always improve my game.”
Plenty of Wilson’s value early in the season revolved around his ability to escape seemingly hopeless situations and either make plays with his legs or make a big throw after scrambling. Few if any quarterbacks could have survived four quarters, let alone led a team to victory the way Wilson did amid the beatings he took Houston and St. Louis.
As Seattle’s line has gotten back to full strength, Wilson has reminded people that he’s much more than a mobile quarterback. That always has been the case, but it has been more clearly illustrated since Seattle’s only loss in Indianapolis. Since that game, Wilson has completed 70 percent or more of his passes in five of seven games, and posted a passer rating of 117 or better five times. His passer ratings of 151.4 and 139.6 the past two games are the two highest of his career, and since last year’s Week 7 loss in San Francisco, his rating of 111.9 is the best in the NFL. Yes, even better than Manning’s.
“Everybody thinks this guy’s a freak quarterback,” Fangio told reporters in San Francisco. “This guy’s just a really good quarterback who happens to be very fast, very quick and very elusive. He’s not just a guy that runs around. He’s a passer, too. He can run any offense and be a confident quarterback.”
Kaepernick, meanwhile, has had some very impressive performances this season, yet he’s also had some off games as well. He may someday pass Wilson, or maybe Luck or Griffin will, but right now, this season, Wilson’s peer group has changed.
“I think of him as a leading MVP candidate,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “If he’s not up there with the Peytons and the Tom Bradys and all of those guys, I don’t know what you have to do to be there, because within our offense he’s done just about everything you can do to be an MVP candidate. … He’s been very efficient at home in a way, we’ve won most of the games that we’ve played. I think he has the best winning percentage of anybody out there playing right now so at the end of day, they say it’s about wins.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.