By Mike Salk
What a difference a week makes. Or, what a difference a win makes.
The Seahawks made many of the same mistakes that cost them in Miami. They once again struggled to remain disciplined. They hurt themselves with penalties and drops. They allowed the referees to factor in the game. Even worse, they didn’t get the special teams lift nor the turnovers that nearly prevented the loss last week.
But this week was different. This time they made enough plays to overcome those mistakes. And their quarterback came up aces when they truly needed him.
Russell Wilson had a special game in Chicago. You can see it in his numbers: 23 of 37 (62 percent) for 293 yards, 71 yards on the ground, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a quarterback rating of 104.9. His rating on the season is now at 95.2, seventh in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks. He is ninth in touchdown passes (19) and there are 20 quarterbacks that have thrown more interceptions than his eight.
But those numbers only tell part of the story.
When the Seahawks needed a play, he made it. When the Seahawks needed a drive, he led it. When the Seahawks faced certain peril, he overcame it.
How many quarterbacks lead their team on two game-winning drives in one game? He did. How many quarterbacks account for 99 yards on a 97-yard scoring drive? He did. The only thing he didn’t do was win the overtime coin toss – Matt Flynn nailed that one.
Staring 97 yards in the face with the game in the balance, he didn’t blink. Fourth-and-3, where the game ends if you don’t convert? How about a bullet to Zach Miller. Third-and-10 in overtime with a difficult field goal and the threat of giving Chicago another chance to win? He slung a beauty to Doug Baldwin.
Wilson had the stats and the gut-check plays you need to win games.
In fact, he won a road game despite his team losing the turnover battle (1-0). As Beau in Los Angeles points out, that is the mark of a franchise quarterback.
Clearly, what he accomplished was special. But how did he do it?
Simple. He used the three attributes that set him apart from others at his position: his head, his legs and his arm.
Russell Wilson gained a season-high 71 yards rushing on nine carries. (AP)
Wilson is short – maybe you’ve heard. Though he is clearly capable of delivering passes from the pocket, it would be foolish to limit him there. So credit Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable for opening their minds and finding what suits their quarterback best.
The read option.
It seems like every time the offense performs, I rave about the read option. And why not? It is the play that best takes advantage of their skills. It allows Wilson to use his decision-making prowess by reading the defensive end and either keeping the football or allowing the running back to slide underneath the end.
If he keeps, his legs have been key – to the tune of 71 yards in this one. And two of the biggest plays of the game (the third-and-10 completion to Baldwin and the final touchdown to Sidney Rice) both came off the same read-option look.
Teams will likely adapt to the play; NFL coaches are too smart not to adjust. But that adjustment should come as Wilson grows more and more comfortable in the traditional passing game.
What I’m saying here is what we already know: the Seahawks have their franchise guy in Wilson. The win in Chicago alone didn’t prove it, but it was another important piece of evidence.
That’s the good news in the long term. In short term, there was plenty as well.
The Seahawks put themselves in position were they can go 3-1 in their final four games and be assured of a playoff spot. In truth, with New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Minnesota all losing, they can likely reach the tournament even if they split their final four. Even better, they are still within range of Green Bay/Chicago for the fifth seed and San Francisco for the NFC West crown.
If the Seahawks want to remain successful, they are going to need that defense to show up at home. The defense is a curious case. It clearly isn’t as great as we thought it would be before the year began. In the last seven games, it has given up huge performances to Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, Ryan Tannehill and now Brandon Marshall.
But while it may not be what we had hoped, it isn’t exactly porous either. Seventeen points in Chicago is nothing to be embarrassed about. Nor is their 16.8 points per game average. Our expectations may have been too high, but failing to meet them still leaves this defense in good shape.
And with the offense finding new ways to shoulder the load, that may be enough.