RENTON — A year ago the Seattle Seahawks were 0-2, bringing up the rear in the NFC West standings while being buried by many NFL observers who figured their run as one of the league’s elites was over.
“The Seahawks are 0-2 and their glory days suddenly seem like such a long time ago,” blared a headline on a story in the Washington Post following a 24-17 Monday night loss in Chicago to the Bears.
Another story on CBSSports.com began: “Chicago is rising and Seattle is treading water, trying to find an identity in the post Legion of Boom Era.”
Since that night, Seattle has gone 12-4 in the regular season, including 2-0 this year as it enters Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, already one of just 10 unbeaten teams remaining.
So what happened?
The running game got better, no doubt, as the Seahawks have regained both an ability and focus to make it work. The defense was rebuilt into a unit that with the additions of Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney may have a front seven as good as at any time in the Pete Carroll era (especially when Jarran Reed returns in Week 7). The Seahawks have also mastered the art of being opportunistic — Seattle is 9-2 in its past 16 games when winning the turnover battle and led the league in turnover margin a year ago.
But at the top of the list is this — Russell Wilson became their identity.
A year ago, in the wake of the 0-2 start, questions lingered about the team’s roster remodel and decisions to move on from most of the key defensive players from the LOB days and rebuild around Wilson (though it’s worth remembering that some of those decisions were forced on the Seahawks due to injuries to the likes of Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril, with Richard Sherman’s exit also heavily influenced by his Achilles injury.)
Many wondered: Could Wilson really carry the Seahawks successfully into a new era?
As last Sunday showed again, Wilson has delivered an emphatic “yes.”
Consider Wilson’s stats since last year’s 0-2 start, which constitutes a complete 16-game season: 282 completions in 413 attempts, 68.3%, for 3,419 yards, 35 touchdowns and four interceptions with an 8.2-yard average per completion (which would have ranked sixth in the NFL last year). He’s hardly been dinking and dunking.
His passer rating of 117.7 over that span would be the fourth-best in history for a single season.
Wilson’s consistency has been equally as impressive as his numbers. In 12 of his past 16 games, he’s had a passer rating above 100. Only one game in that span could really be classified as bad: a 10-for-20 for 72 yards outing last December against the Vikings. Even then, after an interception that killed a first-half drive that might be his only really hideous decision in that time, he ripped off a 40-yard run to key a late drive that sewed up the win.
Last week, with the offensive line struggling early to hold off the Steelers’ pass rush, the Seahawks went with a quick passing game that basically put the offense on Wilson’s shoulders, both in executing the throws and getting everything set at the line.
The Seahawks responded with three straight touchdown drives in the second half, and then another long march to run out the last 5:34 after a fumble cut Seattle’s lead to 28-26.
To Carroll, it was evidence of what he had claimed during training camp — that Wilson somehow just continues to get better.
“Last year was one of his bigger jumps because he had more control of the offense, and this year he has gone forward again,” Carroll said. “It’s hard to imagine that somebody can keep getting better when you’re (in) year eight … It is, it’s happening. We’re watching it.”
Just as telling is the reverence in which Wilson now seems to be held in the locker room, also at odds with at least some narratives being painted this time a year ago that he was — in the eyes of some, anyway — a source of division.
After the Pittsburgh win, Clowney said “half the reason” he wanted to come to Seattle was to play with Wilson.
Clowney’s one-time Houston teammate, left tackle Duane Brown, when asked about Wilson this week, prefaced his answer by saying he agreed with everything Clowney said.
“He’s the same guy every day,” Brown said of Wilson. “No matter how the game is going, you can look at him as a constant. He’s going to be the same guy — upbeat, confident. Confident that we are going to be able to find a way to win, that we are going to make the next play that we need to make. I’m just happy to be here with him.”
The Seahawks, of course, are paying Wilson handsomely to be this good, signing him in April to a deal making him the highest-paid QB in NFL history at $35 million a year.
But if the literal value of a QB has never been higher, so is the on-field value as great as its ever been in a league increasingly dependent on quality quarterbacking play. Consider how quickly the betting line on the Seattle-New Orleans game shifted this week when it was learned Drew Brees wouldn’t play — from a pick ‘em to Seattle by 4.5 points almost instantly (also consider how the Arizona-Carolina game shifted five points once Cam Newton was ruled out).
That doesn’t happen if a cornerback, safety, linebacker or running back is listed as not playing, no matter how good.
Quarterbacks obviously can’t do it all and whether Seattle really has enough around Wilson to get back to another Super Bowl remains a big question.
But any debate over whether it was Wilson around whom Seattle should build its future has been settled.