RENTON — Pete Carroll desperately wanted to find his quarterback at the end of the win over Chicago, wanted to celebrate in the way he does and no one else, with fist pumps and a huge smile.
When he finally found Russell Wilson, the quarterback Carroll took a risk on in April’s draft and later in August when he was chosen the starter, the QB did not care about the winning drive he’d just engineered for the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilson saw his receiver Sidney Rice lying prone in the end zone after scoring the decisive touchdown and taking a huge hit, with trainers huddled around.
For that moment, the victory to Wilson didn’t matter, and it caught Carroll by surprise.
“He was so calm about everything that had happened and was just concerned about his teammate,” Carroll said. “That really struck me that he has a tremendous level of awareness and poise and it’s surprising that anybody could be like that, not just a rookie or a young guy in his first shot playing in Chicago and all that. He just continues to be impressive in all of those ways.”
Impressive continues to be the word used most when describing Wilson, the quarterback who didn’t measure up to being worthy of risking a first-round pick on in the NFL draft.
Over the last six weeks, statistically he’s been the best quarterback in the NFL. Wilson’s been better than Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and all the rookie QBs taken before the Seahawks grabbed him in the third round. Not to mention QBs such as Tom Brady, Peyton and Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
With four weeks to go in the regular season, Wilson has Seattle (7-5) in the thick of the NFC playoff race, with an outside shot at a division title entering Sunday’s game vs. Arizona.
“You see when rookies come in, you just watch them and he was a guy, he didn’t try too hard to fit in. He just worked and kept working and kept working and before you knew it he was our starting quarterback,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “You turn around and now he’s making plays and just growing and improving every week. It’s a quarterback-driven league and I’m glad we’ve got a good one.”
Wilson is coming off the most dynamic performance of his rookie season. With Seattle trailing 14-10 and 3:40 remaining, Wilson directed a 97-yard drive, including a fourth-down conversion. The series was capped by a 14-yard TD pass to Golden Tate with 24 seconds left.
Then, after Seattle’s defense surrendered a 56-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall that set up a tying field goal on the final play of regulation, Wilson never let the Bears see the ball again. Wilson took the Seahawks 80 yards in 12 plays on the first possession of overtime, capped by a 13-yard pass to Rice.
It was the third time this season Wilson has thrown a winning touchdown pass in the final 2 minutes of regulation or overtime, the most ever by a rookie quarterback since 1970. He was NFC offensive player of the week, the first time a Seattle offensive player has been recognized with the award since Shaun Alexander during the 2005 season when he was the league MVP.
“His poise when it comes to those close games and those tight situations, he is the same person that he is from the first quarter to overtime,” Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “He goes into the huddle, calls the plays and goes out there like it’s no different. I think that’s crucial when you’re looking at somebody who has to stay calm, especially at the quarterback position, he doesn’t let things rattle him. He just goes out there and keeps performing. There is no roller coaster effect of emotion or play. He just goes out there and continues to grind.”
Over the past six weeks Wilson leads the NFL with a passer rating of 114.6. He needs three more touchdown passes above his current total of 19 to have the second most for a rookie quarterback. If he keeps the pace of the past four games, Wilson would catch and pass Peyton Manning’s mark of 26 for most TD tosses by a rookie.
Seattle has shown a willingness to adapt to Wilson’s talents. A year ago, many running plays came out of a two-back formation with Robinson as a lead blocker ahead of Marshawn Lynch. That still remains the base of Seattle’s run game, but early in the season Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell started examining how other teams, specifically Washington, were using their multi-faceted quarterback.
Slowly, the Seahawks started introducing more of the zone-read running plays that give Wilson the ability to keep the ball instead of handing off to Lynch. Last week it reached its pinnacle for the season when Wilson kept nine times for 71 yards, the most by a Seahawks quarterback in a single game. Much of that total came on Seattle’s final two drives — late in regulation, then in overtime — when Wilson rushed for 47 yards.
With four games left, Wilson has 298 yards rushing and needs 45 more to equal Rick Mirer’s franchise record by a Seattle quarterback in a season.
“We’ve worked at it very carefully I think to try and keep him moving forward the whole time and not try too hard too fast and get too excited with the potential,” Carroll said. “We just wanted to maintain an ongoing ascending process, and this was a tremendous game for a kid to be in charge of because he just didn’t do it once, he did it twice.”
Yet for the rapid rise that started around the midseason mark, Wilson remains constantly in search of knowledge. Within a short time of taking off from Chicago last Sunday, Wilson found a seat next to Warren Moon on the team charter, ready and willing to be critiqued by the Seahawks radio commentator and Hall of Fame QB.
“I’m progressing, but at the same time it’s a constant process,” Wilson said. “You always want to keep learning, you always want to keep striving for perfection.”