SEATTLE — He took a shotgun snap, got flushed to his right and backpedaled with a purpose, a pair of Atlanta Falcons defenders descending with ill intent and a spirited fourth-quarter comeback teetering on the edge of a cataclysmic crash landing. There was nowhere to run for Russell Wilson, who retreated hastily from hard-charging rookie linebacker Deion Jones while veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, a longtime master of the strip sack, swooped in from behind.
Surely, Wilson was about to play the role of mashed avocado in a Quarterback Sandwich, quite possibly without the football in his possession, and 69,071 fans at CenturyLink Field gasped in unison as they anticipated the collision.
And then, as we’ve seen so many times during Wilson’s five-year career, conventional wisdom took a beating — and the Seahawks‘ brilliant quarterback stood tall and unscathed amid the chaos. With Jones latched to his left arm and Freeney pawing at his neck, Wilson lunged backward and to his right and looped a gorgeous rainbow of a touch pass over the head of linebacker Vic Beasley and into the waiting arms of rookie running back Alex Collins, who wasn’t even supposed to be a receiving option on the play.
“He’s a magician,” Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham would tell me afterward, shaking his head for emphasis. “I mean, I don’t even know what to say.”
Yeah, Wilson’s escape act was that good. And as Collins charged ahead for a 9-yard gain to the Falcons‘ 33, converting a third-and-2 and setting up Steven Hauschka‘s game-winning, 44-yard field goal with 1:57 remaining, it was abundantly clear that the world’s best quarterback under the age of 30 is a 5-foot-10 5/8-inch wizard with a preternaturally low pulse rate impervious to pressure.
“Well, first of all, it’s the will to win,” Wilson said as we spoke privately at his locker, long after the Seahawks (4-1) had secured a 26-24 victory over the Falcons (4-2) on Sunday that marked the 20th fourth-quarter or overtime comeback of his career. “And second of all, you’ve got to look forward to the adversity. Without no rain, there’s no harvest. So, that’s kind of the mentality.”
On a rainy day in the Pacific Northwest, a man threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns in a single quarter — and he was not the best quarterback on the field. The Falcons‘ Matt Ryan (27 of 42, 335 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) may be leading the NFL in passing yards (2,075) and passer rating (117.9), but Wilson is the master of his domain, well on his way to becoming the No. 1 performer at the sports world’s most demanding position.
Yeah, I said it. Tom Brady is 39. Drew Brees is 37. Ben Roethlisberger is 34. Aaron Rodgers is 32. You can argue the merits of Ryan (31) or Philip Rivers (34) or reigning MVP Cam Newton (27) or Andrew Luck (27), the man selected first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, 74 picks ahead of Wilson (who was supposed to be too short to thrive at the NFL level), and I won’t be mad at you.
However, if I’m starting a franchise and get to take any player, as is — an exercise I used to do annually, for you Ultimate Mock Draft sentimentalists — I’ll take the 27-year-old Wilson, whose maturity and work ethic are the stuff of legend, and take my chances.
If nothing else, I know at least one guy who won’t call me crazy.
“That’s your decision,” Wilson said, smiling. “I think it’s a good one. I don’t know if I can answer that question … [but] of course I think it’s a good decision.”
When it comes to making good decisions, Wilson is unrivaled. He’s Fran Tarkenton with more foot speed and a better deep ball, and his knack for knowing when to scramble to buy time vs. when to take off and run is uncanny. And those who marginalize him as a quarterback who must rely on his feet to make plays have had a rough month: Two weeks ago, Wilson — his mobility limited by a sprained left knee and a sprained right ankle — completed 23 of 32 passes for 309 yards in a 27-17 victory over the New York Jets.
So much for the can’t throw from the pocket malarkey.
“Yeah, that’s ridiculous,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the Seahawks‘ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, said Saturday afternoon as he stood in the lobby of the Bellevue hotel where the Falcons spent the week between last Sunday’s victory over the Denver Broncos and their interconference clash with the Seahawks. “I expect to see the best Russell Wilson there is. You know he’s gonna be ready.”
Wilson was, completing 25 of 37 passes for 270 yards, and doing the subtle things that don’t always show up in the fantasy ledger. Among his highlights:
» With 6:35 left in the first quarter and the Seahawks facing third-and-3 from their own 21-yard-line, Wilson took a shotgun snap, scrambled to his left and bolted to the sideline, lunging the ball just ahead of the first-down marker as he went out of bounds to extend the drive. Seattle’s ensuing punt pinned the Falcons deep in their territory, and a Cliff Avril strip sack of Ryan set up Christine Michael‘s 9-yard touchdown run, which gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead.
» After slipping to his left on another shotgun snap with 5:20 left in the second quarter, Wilson adroitly zipped a short pass to running back C.J. Spiller in space, facilitating a 24-yard gain. Collins’ 2-yard scoring run on the next play put Seattle up 14-3.
» When Graham (six catches, 89 yards) ran a seam route with 1:58 remaining in the half, Wilson threaded a perfect pass that went for a 25-yard gain, setting up Hauschka’s 4-yard field goal for a 17-3 lead.
» Following a miserable third quarter that saw the Falcons, behind Ryan’s prolific performance, go ahead 24-17 — and provoke a sideline shouting match between star cornerback Richard Sherman and several equally frustrated defensive teammates — Wilson coolly led the Seahawks on a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive, one that included a sublime back-shoulder throw to Jermaine Kearse for a 12-yard gain; a 10-yard fireball to Tyler Lockett on third-and-6; an 11-yard hookup with Doug Baldwin after Wilson scrambled to his right; and a nice touch-pass to Kearse down the left sideline that provoked a pass-interference call at the 3, setting up Michael’s second touchdown run with 4:43 remaining.
It was an exquisitely crafted drive — until the punctuation mark. Atlanta’s Ra’Shede Hageman blocked Hauschka’s extra point, preserving a 24-23 lead. Quinn stayed aggressive on the Falcons‘ next possession, with Ryan attempting three passes — the third of which was deflected into the air by Sherman and intercepted by All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, who returned it 5 yards to midfield.
Back onto the field came Wilson, whose Are you kidding me? connection with Collins made him a winner for the 50th time in 69 career regular season starts. Only two quarterbacks in history have reached that plateau in fewer games (Ken Stabler, 62; Tom Brady, 65). When you throw in Wilson’s postseason efforts, including one Super Bowl triumph and another that fell a yard short of an epic encore, we’re talking about a winner of the highest order.
“Nothing shakes that man,” said Graham, who, in his second year with the Seahawks, is starting to resemble the All-Pro form he routinely displayed in his New Orleans Saints days. “He’s got this unshakable confidence: ‘We’re gonna win. We’re gonna come back.’ Last year, at some of the worst moments, he would be out there telling us we were gonna win.
“He’ll predict plays. He’ll say, ‘I’m gonna hit this play-action bomb, and the defense is gonna get a turnover, and we’re gonna pull it out.’ And it comes true, almost every time.”
Trust me, Jimmy — I know.
On Sunday, Wilson told Hauschka, who’d also missed a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter after a bad snap from Nolan Frese, “You’re one of the best kickers in the league. Just stay in the moment. You’re gonna make the game-winner.”
Wilson, of course, would make that possible via his third-and-2 pass to Collins, whose instincts told him to abandon his ill-fated blocking assignment and slide to his right.
“I knew,” Collins said, smiling. “I had a feeling, just from how the linebacker played off of me — he originally wasn’t rushing and then all of a sudden he made a move, and the only reason he would be running opposite behind me was because Russell was moving. I just wanted to make myself available. For him to find me like that — hey, that’s normal. He does it all the time in practice.”
Asked Baldwin: “Why are you surprised? It’s Russell Wilson. He’s proved people wrong from the very beginning — game in, game out.”
Five years into a magical career, Wilson has convinced some of us that he’s destined to ascend to the pinnacle of his sport.
I look forward to watching him prove us right.
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.
Russell Wilson proves to be a ‘magician’ in win over Falcons – NFL.com