Russell Wilson finds magic on worst day to lift Seattle back to Super Bowl
SEATTLE -- When he was the 75th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Russell Wilson showed little emotion. He was just grateful for the opportunity, though he may have burned inside with the knowledge that if he were a few inches taller, he might have been a top-10 pick. When he was the odd man out as the Seahawks tried to validate their decision to overpay free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn, Wilson showed little emotion. He just started throwing dimes to receivers he'd never seen before in rookie minicamp and never stopped on his rise to earning Seattle's starting quarterback job. When he was thought by many to be a game manager early in his career and largely dismissed as a primary factor in Seattle's ascent to the Super Bowl last season, he showed little emotion. He just went out and made the plays that needed to be made.
And when he threw four interceptions Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, Russell Wilson showed little emotion. He just kept his head down, continued to believe in his ability to rally his team and helped win the game with a gorgeous 35-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jermaine Kearse with 11:48 left in overtime. That score completed a comeback from 19-7 down late in the fourth quarter, a rally that included a fake field goal attempt for a touchdown, an improbable two-point conversion and two crucial bullets from Wilson to his receivers.
When the Seahawks' 28-22 win went final and Wilson knew that he would be the first quarterback on a back-to-back Super Bowl team since Tom Brady a decade ago, Wilson let it go. He cried openly on the field, letting the emotion wash over him. Which was interesting, given that when the Seahawks took this same journey last year, Wilson was as he usually is: buttoned-up and buttoned-down, with a ready answer for everything but never anything too revealing.
True to form, Wilson was easy with the quips after the game.
"The game started off kinda ugly, didn't it?" Wilson said. "But that last three minutes, plus that overtime, is probably as good as you can get."
At the expense of the shell-shocked Packers, a Seahawks team that has learned to believe in itself no matter what enjoyed its finest hour yet with this comeback -- the biggest in NFC title game history, spearheaded by the first quarterback in NFL history to throw four or more interceptions in a championship game and actually win. (The only other quarterback to do it in professional football history was George Blanda, who threw five picks for the 1961 Houston Oilers in the American Football League's 1961 title game, a 10-3 win over the San Diego Chargers.) Wilson finished Sunday with 14 completions in 29 attempts for 209 yards, those four interceptions and that one magical touchdown, one week after he had the best third-down playoff performance of any quarterback in the last 10 years against the Panthers: 8-for-8 on third down for 199 yards and three touchdowns. On this day, Wilson couldn't buy a touchdown with all the money he's going to get in his new contract this offseason ... until it was absolutely crucial, and until a defense that had its way with him all day was suddenly lost in a fog.
In other words, you have to go deep into the recesses of history to come up with anything as weird as this.
As for the emotion shown by Wilson, that was more about the meaning than the rarity of the moment.
"I'm usually pretty calm, but going through that game, and going through the ups and downs of it -- a lot of downs," Wilson said. "More so than normal. But just staying the course, and continuing to believe in the guys I have around me, and continuing to believe in the playcalling. Coach [offensive coordinator Darrell] Bevell called a great game, and we just weren't making the plays for some reason, and having four turnovers by me, that's tough. But at the same time, I just never doubted our guys. When I hit that touchdown, the funny thing is that I told coach Bevell on the sideline right when we won the [overtime] coin toss, 'I'm gonna hit Kearse for a touchdown.'
"But thinking about that game, and going through the ups and downs of life, winning the Super Bowl last year and people doubting what we could do -- it was just an emotional time."
It was an emotional time for Kearse, as well -- he was primarily responsible for two of Wilson's picks and was the target on all four. Wilson refused to give up on his receiver, and Kearse came through when it counted.
The touchdown was Wilson's to set up, as he checked out of the called play against Green Bay's zero-coverage (no safeties deep). Kearse was champing at the bit to get a piece of that, not only to redeem himself after those mistakes but because he knew his team had the tactical advantage.
"Once I saw the coverage, I had a feeling [Wilson] was going to check to that play, and I knew that if I could beat my man, he was going to give me an opportunity," Kearse said. "I mean, I wish that ball -- every ball earlier in the game felt as easy as that one. I just had no doubt in my mind that I was going to come down with that play."
That comes from a belief that starts with head coach Pete Carroll, flows down to Wilson and lands with Wilson's receivers. It's Carroll knowing that his quarterback will keep his poise even in the face of howling mistakes -- because, as Wilson told me, "I've done the work." And then, it's Wilson telling his guys that he'll keep coming to them no matter what. This all sounds very simple -- but as they say, if it were very simple, everyone would do it. And you'd have to search high and low to find a team of anybodies who have engineered a comeback remotely like this.
"Just to keep hanging," Carroll said, when I asked him about his conversations with Wilson during that early adversity. "Be patient, and just wait it out. Don't try too hard too early. Patience is really important -- it always is when you're trying to come back. You don't want to force the issue and get yourself in trouble, trying to get back too fast. I think it was about three minutes left in the game, and it was still 19-7. That took tremendous faith by everybody, not just Russell. He was in the huddle. He was leading.
"He had to stand for that, and he did."
On Sunday, Russell Wilson stood for it the most when he knelt on the field after the game and let everyone know what the moment meant to him -- that he could move past his own imperfections and somehow help his team be perfect when it most counted.
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