By Mike Salk
Hello, NFL. Meet the Seahawks! They might not always be pretty and they might not look like everyone else. But they can play.
So far this year, they have played the two best quarterbacks in football and sent both home disappointed. They played two other 4,000-yard passers from 2011 and beat them both as well. Yeah, they dropped two winnable games on the road, but they were a single play away from winning both and that’s life in the NFL.
So, has anyone said the Patriots played down to the Seahawks’ level yet?
If so, tune them out.
The Seahawks’ vaunted defense didn’t dominate the Patriots. That’s OK; no one does. They were out-manned at times – everyone is – but found ways to limit the damage. The Patriots scored just three points on two turnovers, this despite a pass rush that did not get home often enough.
Bill Belichick has gotten credit for his bend-but-don’t-break defenses in the past. In this game, it was the Seahawks finding ways to limit the damage despite the 395 passing yards from Tom Brady. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman ended likely scoring drives with interceptions and two intentional grounding penalties had a similar effect. Three times they held New England to field goals after the game’s best offense entered the red zone.
Russell Wilson threw for a career-high 293 yards and added 17 rushing in Seattle’s win over New England. (AP)
And that set the stage for the kid to do his thing.
Russell Wilson isn’t always pretty. He’s definitely not traditional. But he can sling it. And maybe more importantly, he has a quality about him that you don’t see every day in the NFL. You can call him a leader or a winner. Heck, I’ve even been accused of calling him a prophet or a deity. I’m not exactly sure what he is, but he’s a must-watch whenever he drops back.
We got our best look at that in the third preseason game against Kansas City, as Wilson threw, ran and created like an All Pro. On Sunday, we saw that same player.
All of Wilson’s talents were on display against the Patriots. He threw from the pocket, he rolled right and left. He scrambled to pass and he scrambled to run. He didn’t hit every open receiver (for the record, neither did Brady), but he made the plays when he had to on the final drives.
Which did you like better, the threaded fade to Braylon Edwards on fourth down or the perfectly thrown bomb to Sidney Rice that put the Seahawks ahead for good? Take your pick. They needed both.
So, where did this performance come from?
Some fans will credit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for finally opening up the offense. Others will say the New England defense has its share of problems, especially in the secondary. Both are correct, but they miss the point.
Pete Carroll is playing the short version of the long game.
The long game says you keep the quarterback on a short leash, making sure he gains confidence and doesn’t make too many mistakes. You are developing a player to be a long-term success, even if you have to pass on some short-term gains.
The short game is the opposite. You throw your quarterback to the wolves, letting him drop back 40-50 times per game in the hopes of winning a few along the way. Sure, you’ll see some eye-popping numbers (see Weeden, Brandon), but there is plenty of risk along the way.
But the short version of the long game? That develops a player over time, but it doesn’t have to take forever. Remember, every time an anti-Wilsonite complains about the rookie starting, they say, “We don’t have time to wait for him to develop! We can’t waste this defense and we have to win right now!”
That’s fine, but they should know that the winning could be this year – that development can occur quickly.
Carroll is developing his young quarterback slowly, but trying to win along the way. It isn’t easy – we all know you can’t have your cake and eat it, too – but Carroll has had a plan and we are starting to see it take shape. That plan takes time, but not as much as some might have thought.
Remember, Carroll has said he would open up the offense – when the situation dictated he do so. Not before. He wasn’t going to put his young quarterback in a position to take unnecessary risks until the score of a game made those risks necessary. Down 13 points to the reigning AFC champions apparently qualified as necessary.
When they opened up the offense, Wilson responded. His scramble (which was called back due to holding) was a glimpse into the future of his bag of tricks. The fade to Edwards was a testament to his guts. And the throw to Rice, well, it was the whole package. Right on the money.
It was his second game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of play. It was the first that much of the country won’t pooh-pooh.
It was perfect way to say hello to the league.