By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
CHICAGO — With two game-winning drives already in his pocket this season, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson searched for an encore.
And he found it in the Windy City, twice leading the Seahawks on long scoring drives against one of the best defenses in the league, helping Seattle exorcise some demons on the road by defeating the Chicago Bears in overtime, 23-17 at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Wilson matched his season high for passing yards with 293, completing 23 of 37 passing attempts.
Wilson finished with two touchdown passes in the final minutes of the game, including the game-winning score to Sidney Rice on a 13-yard pass play.
He also ran for 71 yards, as Seattle leaned heavily on the zone-read option, and finished with a 104.9 passer rating.
Since Week 5, Wilson has thrown 15 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
“He’s just so beautifully poised and so confident, that it gives himself a chance to play at this kind of level,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said.
And players from other teams are taking notice.
“He’s a born leader,” said Chicago receiver Brandon Marshall, who finished with a game-high 10 catches for 165 yards. “I listened to the guy talk. I watch how he conducts himself, how he handles himself. That’s a guy I can watch and learn from.”
Seattle’s last overtime game was a 23-20 loss to Arizona in the final game of the 2011 season. The Seahawks’ last victory in overtime was a 24-21 win at home against the New York Giants on Nov. 27, 2005.
The Seahawks are now 9-18 all-time in overtime games.
With the win, Seattle improved to 7-5 on the year, while the Bears dropped to 8-4. The Seahawks now sit alone as the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs with Tampa Bay (6-6) and Minnesota (6-6) losing on Sunday.
The Seahawks also gained ground on NFC West division leader San Francisco (8-3-1), with the Niners losing on the road to the Rams in overtime, 16-13.
The win was Seattle’s third straight in Chicago, and sixth in their last eight games against the Bears. The Seahawks also proved they could beat a good team on the road, improving to 2-5 away from CenturyLink Field this season.
“It’s a powerful illustration for a young bunch of guys that it can happen,” Carroll said about getting the win on the road. “And this is how it does happen. It’s been a long time coming.”
A slugfest between two of the top defenses in NFL, the Seahawks trailed 14-10 with 3:40 remaining in regulation when Wilson took over the offense on Seattle’s own 3-yard line.
“I just told the guys, ‘You know guys this is what the season comes down to,’” Wilson said after the game. “’Right here, right now. We have 97 yards to go. We have to play one play at a time, stay in the now and execute, and just make the plays when we need them.’ And the guys really did that tonight.”
Wilson finished 7-of-10 on the drive, methodically moving Seattle into scoring position. He capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate on a crossing route, with the Notre Dame product weaving his way through traffic and diving into the end zone.
“Russell did a great job of reading the defense,” Tate said. “And once I had the ball in my hands, I just did my best to make a play.”
The Bears were down, but not out.
With just 24 seconds remaining, Seattle’s defense did the unthinkable, letting Marshall wiggle open down field for quarterback Jay Cutler to find for a 56-yard gain, setting up a Robbie Gould 46-yard field goal to push the game into overtime.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman appeared to be in position to knock the ball down, rather than going for the interception on the play.
“It never should have happened,” Carroll said. “But it was a great job by their quarterback. Jay’s a terrific football player. And obviously Brandon is just so talented. And those two guys together, they make it really hard.”
Thomas, who was trailing Marshall on the play, was blunt in his assessment.
“The long catch was kind of a fluke play,” Thomas said. “I think we were in Cover 2. I think we just need to be better on our assignments, and definitely bat the ball down.”
The Seahawks won the toss in overtime. This time, Wilson used his legs instead of his arm to move the ball down the field, running four times for 28 yards to help Seattle get into field goal position.
But Carroll didn’t want to give the Bears another chance to win the game.
“We were trying to win the football game there,” Carroll said. “We weren’t thinking about just kicking the field goal.
So on first-and-10 from Chicago’s 13-yard line, Wilson used a play-action fake to freeze the defense, rolled to his left and hit Rice on a crossing route, with the wiry receiver plowing into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Rice was injured on the play. He fell limp after Chicago safety Major Wright drilled him as he crossed the goal line, which also forced the Seattle receiver to lose the ball.
But replay officials confirmed that Rice crossed the goal line before he lost the ball, and Rice managed to leave the field on his own after the training staff checked him out on the field.
Thomas believes the big win on the road can help catapult his team toward a playoff run in the final four games of the season.
“This definitely something that you can build on going into the next game,” Thomas said. “Our spirits are high around here.”