By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — The Sports Illustrated cover, the GQ spread, the SportsCenter features, the Super Bowl hype, we might not have seen any of that if not for Russell Wilson’s performance in Carolina last year.
But when things need fixing, Russell Wilson tends to fix them, which is a big reason why all of the attention and all of those lofty expectations are on the Seahawks when they open the 2013 season in the same place where Wilson helped turn around his and his team’s 2012 season.
Heading into his fifth game as a rookie starter, Wilson was coming off a pretty rough outing in St. Louis. And while head coach Pete Carroll wouldn’t say then or now that Wilson was playing for his job, it’s entirely possible that if the Seahawks had lost another game on the road, and if Wilson had again struggled, backup quarterback Matt Flynn would have gotten his chance the following week.
That’s not to say that the Seahawks would have given up on the idea of Wilson as their long-term starter. But Carroll has admitted that they did wonder what Flynn might have been able to do had he gotten a chance to start.
Of course Flynn never got that chance, because Wilson, as Wilson is wont to do, fixed what was wrong on that Sunday afternoon in Charlotte. Wilson wasn’t great in that game — he threw what might have been his worst interception of the season. But in a week in which Carroll had talked to him about the offense needing to improve on third down, the team got better on third down.
“Usually what we emphasize, we end up getting,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
In their first four games, which included two road losses, the Seahawks converted on 28 percent of their third downs (14 of 50). And they were just 2-for-11 in the previous week’s loss, which saw Wilson throw three interceptions. In Carolina, Wilson completed 9 of 10 passes on third down, including the team’s only touchdown, and the offense was 7-for-14 on third down. From that point on, third down was never really an issue for Wilson or the Seahawks. And a few weeks later, when the focus was on getting more efficient in the red zone, the Seahawks and Wilson got better in the red zone.
“He hadn’t realized, truly faced ‘I haven’t produced as well on the road,’” Carroll said. “There was a conversation during the week leading into that game that we had. I said, ‘Do you realize that your numbers are way different when you’ve been at home than on the road?’ You guys were writing about it but he wasn’t paying attention and he finally said, ‘I don’t want that to happen anymore.’ Just like he has changed so many things, he just played like the QB that he had been at home. And really from that point of the season on, he was very, very good and realized that it isn’t any different playing on the road than playing at home for him. … He’s just kind of turned it and got us going and got us on move in the second half of the season.
“He kind of fixed it in a sense. How he did it, I don’t know.”
How Wilson did it, how he always seems to correct whatever needs correcting, is related most to the now-famous work ethic instilled in him as a child by his father, Harrison. Wilson has incredible athletic abilities, to be sure, and the poise and leadership to win over a locker room as a rookie. But what really sets him apart, what makes those who know him so certain that Wilson absolutely will not buy into his own hype or take a step back, is that near maniacal drive to be great.
“He just continues to work hard,” said receiver Golden Tate. “He continues to show up early and leave late. He’s still doing that, and that’s why we don’t need to worry about a sophomore slump. He won’t let that happen and we won’t let that happen.”
Wilson downplays the individual importance of that Week 5 performance, though he does admit it was important for the team to get a road victory under its belt. But with the Seahawks opening their season in Carolina as Super Bowl favorites, in large part because of Wilson, it’s hard not to wonder how things could have changed for him and the team if he hadn’t turned that corner last year. Before Wilson could lead a big comeback on the road in Chicago, before he could put himself in the best-rookie-quarterback conversation with Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, and before he could lead one of the most impressive playoff comebacks you’ll ever see — one that ultimately was undone by a final-minute Atlanta drive — Wilson and the Seahawks had to figure out how to get better on the road in Carolina.
“To be able to win that game in a tough environment against a very good football team that was going through some ups-and-downs themselves, to win that game was good for us,” Wilson said. “We continued to fight for the rest of the season and we did a great job for the rest of the season on the road.”
Actually, check that, Wilson doesn’t want to say the Seahawks did a great job. Greatness is within reach this season, but they haven’t gotten there yet. That’s what’s driving them, and it’s what should keep anyone in Seattle’s locker room from losing the edge that got them this far.
“We’ve done a lot of good things, but we haven’t done anything great yet,” Wilson said. “To do that, we have to play one week at a time, one game at a time, and one opportunity at a time. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to do something great one day.”
One day just might start today in the city where Wilson turned a corner last year. And if it doesn’t, you’d be wise not to bet against him fixing whatever did go wrong.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.