STACY ROST

Rost: By winning without Russell Wilson at his best, Seahawks prove they’re Super Bowl contenders

Nov 25, 2019, 12:11 AM | Updated: 8:13 am
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson...
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson had a rating below 100 for the third time in 2019 on Sunday. (Getty)
(Getty)

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the league’s frontrunner for MVP, has had only three games this year with a passer rating of less than 100, but each has told an interesting story about this year’s Seahawks.

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The first of those three performances – a loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens – highlighted the importance of Wilson’s role on this team.

Prior to that game, Wilson was off to a historic start. He became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to post a passer rating of 100 or more through six consecutive games to start the season – joining a list that includes Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. Wilson led the league in touchdown passes at that point and had yet to throw an interception, and despite being short longtime No. 1 receiver Doug Baldwin, he was able to find magic with Tyler Lockett and second-year tight end Will Dissly, and foster a connection with rookie DK Metcalf.

Against Baltimore, though, he faltered. It’s hard to be too critical given that it was Wilson’s first misstep in an otherwise stellar season, but the veteran completed 20 of his 41 passing attempts for 241 yards and one touchdown. And while he threw an interception that was his first of the season, unfortunately for Wilson it was returned 67 yards for a touchdown.

But Wilson’s struggles weren’t the only story. Seattle’s defense also failed to contain Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, who rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown. To date, that loss is one of just three games this season in which Seattle has surrendered 100 or more rushing yards, and Baltimore’s 199 yards on the ground are still the most the Seahawks have allowed to any opponent in 2019.

Maybe it was Wilson’s uncanny start, or maybe it was a struggling pass rush, but either way the biggest question facing the Seahawks earlier this season was what they would look like without their quarterback playing at his best. The answer? Not great. And maybe that’s the mark of an MVP after all.

Wilson’s struggles against the 49ers in Week 10 and Eagles in Week 12 tell a different story, though, thanks to the emergence of Seattle’s pass rush.

Wilson threw for 232 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a thrilling overtime victory over San Francisco on Nov. 11, but the story of the game was the defense. The Seahawks sacked 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo five times and intercepted him once. Leading the pack was defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who had a sack, five quarterback hits, a second-half forced fumble and a first-half fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown.

Wilson made plays against the Eagles in Week 12 – including a 33-yard touchdown to Malik Turner – but he also had an uncharacteristic miss to a wide open Jacob Hollister in the end zone and was intercepted for the third time this year. But unlike their game against the Ravens, the Seahawks didn’t stumble when Wilson struggled. In fact, they looked pretty good in spite of it.

The defense registered three sacks of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, bringing Seattle’s total across the past two games to eight sacks, a marked improvement from their production in weeks prior. The Seahawks had five takeaways (two interceptions and three fumble recoveries) and didn’t allow a touchdown through the better part of four quarters. And they did it all without Week 10 star Clowney, who was sidelined by a hip injury.

This isn’t a knock on Wilson, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to a winning record in each of his first eight seasons as a pro with Sunday’s victory. Rather, it’s a look at the development of the team around him.

That the Seahawks struggled without Wilson at his best earlier this season is the mark of an MVP. That they responded as a balanced team in their last two games is the mark of a Super Bowl contender.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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