Russell Wilson isn’t some sort of seer, but he doesn’t believe that any of this is happening by mistake, either. And so his approaching Greg Olsen, just before Seattle took the ball at its own 25 with 3:59 left, down 31-30? That was more than just a quarterback giving his teammate a pat on the rear-end as his offense headed into crunch time.
It was real faith.
“The craziest thing was the drive before that I told him, Listen, it's going to come down to you making a great big-time play,” Wilson said, over the phone from the Seahawks locker room late Sunday afternoon. “You're going to make the play.”
Sure enough, it wasn’t more than a few minutes later that the Seahawks faced fourth-and-3. Seattle was at the Dallas 47, 2:37 left, and one bad play away from Loss No. 1 of the season.
That bad play never came for Wilson and his unit. Not when Wilson threw with anticipation as Olsen bent his route inside, and dropped the ball low and back outside to shield the big tight end from oncoming Dallas safety Xavier Woods to pick up 11 yards and move the sticks. And not when third-and-3 arose three plays later, and Wilson looked to another of his playmakers, one who needed to atone for an earlier misstep.
Three quarters before this, D.K. Metcalf seemed to have an easy 63-yard touchdown, hauling in a majestic bomb from Wilson and jogging to the end zone when, 62 yards in, Cowboys rookie Trevon Diggs came screaming in to knock the ball loose and through the end zone for a touchback to preserve what was, at the time, a 9-9 tie.
“He said, basically, let's get it back,” Wilson said. “He's such a great friend. He's one of my best friends on the team. He's like a little brother to me. But he's also a guy that's just been so special in everything that he does. It's a learning lesson. You can't take a play for granted. He knows now. And I'm expecting that for the next 10 years of his career.”
Message received. On that third-and-3, split left, Metcalf ran his route through the teeth of the Dallas defense and came free down the right side, where Wilson had bought time to find him just as he blew past safety Darian Thompson for a 29-yard touchdown and the game-winning points.
Add a two-point conversion throw to Olsen, and it was 38-31, and that would be the final.
But above and beyond the simple outcome, Wilson knew Metcalf would come up big for him, the same way he knew Olsen would, the same way we all seem to know now that the 31-year-old Seahawks quarterback is going to make every play he needs to in these spots. He won in Atlanta. He beat Cam Newton and the Patriots. He outdueled Dak.
In doing so, as we’ve all readied to watch the last two MVPs duel tonight in what may be the most anticipated game of the regular season, Wilson was busy serving notice on Sunday—he’s playing as well as he ever has, too, and is more in command than he’s ever been.
The result? Through three weeks, when it comes to this year’s MVP, the two guys playing tonight, and everyone else, are chasing him.
What a bonkers Week 3 we had. A lot to get to with all of you, including ...
• An inside look at the Bears’ decision to switch QBs.
• How Bills fought off the Rams’ furious rally.
• The Lions pump life into their season.
And much, much more. But we’re starting with Wilson and his Seahawks.
I did ask Wilson if hearing so much about tonight’s combatants—Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes—lit fire underneath him at all. And he countered with the four things that motivate him more than anything else.
The first is his faith, he said, “because God's given me this opportunity.” The second is his family, he continued, because “I want my kids one day to see that Dad was able to do everything he could to leave it on the line for the family.” And then, the third and fourth things are the ones that are easier for the rest of us to see.
“The third thing is, for me, when I think about who I want to be, I want to be the best to ever play this game, ultimately. That's the thought process,” he said. “I've got a long way to go, I've just got to keep my head down and keep working. The fourth thing is I love winning. I love winning. That's the only option. Winning is the only option. I love winning."
On Sunday, we saw where those things—his own greatness, and the potential of the team around him—came together and beat back a battle-tested opponent that wouldn’t go away.
The Seahawks went up 9-3, the Cowboys tied it at 9. The Seahawks went up 16-9, the Cowboys closed that to 16-15. Then Seattle watched a 30-15 lead melt away into a 31-30 deficit. The team’s once-vaunted run game was up-and-down, lead back Chris Carson went down, and the defense struggled, again.
So it was going to be on Wilson as it has been for the first month of the season, and that meant Wilson was going to lean back on the work he and the guys around him already did.
Those relationships with Olsen (again, he’s new) and Metcalf (he’s in just his second NFL season), didn’t come together overnight, and they weren’t easy to forge in a very unusual offseason. But the guys involved were committed to advancing them, as were guys like Tyler Lockett who’d been around longer, and so a series of a virtual players-only meetings were how Wilson made up the difference.
“Those guys have been so great,” Wilson said. “Every day, in terms of their approach in the offseason, we spent an hour on Zoom calls with the rookies before our scheduled meetings, And then we spent an hour after. We spent two hours a day for four days a week, so eight extra hours every week, just spending time. Sometimes even more. And it's a testament to that and the work ethic. Really, the reality is nothing happens by accident, you know?”
The way Wilson and the offense are playing hasn’t happened by accident at all.
Because they’d worked together, Wilson and Olsen had a better rapport than most guys who’d only played a couple weeks together would. Because they’d spent time together, Wilson knew he could count on Metcalf to bounce back and get his redemption later in the game. And because they’d been over all this before, Wilson’s message for these sorts of situations was already ingrained.
In simple terms, it came down to two words for Wilson: Stay neutral. When we talked, he figured that applied to Olsen, when he had to show up on the biggest play of the drive, and to Metcalf, who had to keep his mind in the right place after his mistake.
“One of the things I talk to the guys about, it's something I firmly believe, it's staying neutral—[mental conditioning coach Trevor Moawad] and I, that's the philosophy,” Wilson said. “It's being neutral, staying neutral in the midst of a moment, amidst the chaos. And that's what we did on that last drive, that's what we did throughout the game. We knew it was going to be a battle, and we were able to remain neutral in the midst of it all. It doesn't mean you don't play with passion; you can play with great passion.
“You keep your mind calm and on what you're trying to do, what the task is."
And as Wilson sees it, this is just the start.
While he wanted to keep the focus on the team, it’s impossible not to see how Seattle is more reliant on him, and more Russell-centric, than ever before. Through three weeks, he’s thrown for 925 yards, 14 touchdowns and a pick, and with a young and banged-up defense on hand, the Seahawks have needed all of that to beat the Falcons, Patriots and Cowboys in succession.
The hope, from everyone, is that the team balances out over time. Seattle should get better with time on defense, and the run game has shown plenty of flashes of breaking out. And if that happens, look out.
"Yeah, there's a whole other level that we can go to, that we're going to work for every day, when we approach this game,” he said. “There's a whole other level that we can get to, a space we can go to. It's time for us to, no pun intended, level up our game a little bit. That's what we're excited about. There's a whole other space we can go to as a team, as players, as a group. That's what I'm excited about. We feel like we're just getting started."
Even still, clearly, Wilson, Metcalf, Olsen and a host of others have already come a long way.
BEARS AT A QUARTERBACK CROSSROADS
In the jubilant aftermath of a come-from-behind 30-26 win in Atlanta, Bears coach Matt Nagy knew there was business to tend to—and he wasted very little time confronting head-on what was coming for his team. On the two-hour charter back to Chicago, Nagy spent about 10 minutes in the aisle talking with Nick Foles, and another 10 minutes sitting with Mitch Trubisky, and told both how the 24 hours to follow would go.
By now, you know where this thing is. Trubisky won the job in camp and, through some uneven play, led the Bears to a 2-0 start. On Sunday, after falling behind 16-10 in the first half, then going three-and-out on the first series of the second half, as the deficit bulged to 26-10, Nagy and Co. turned to Foles, who promptly led the Bears back to a 30-26 win.
We can all guess where it’s going next—but Nagy swore last night that he wanted to be deliberate about it, and have his infrastructure of QB coaches all do the homework. So the idea is to have those guys (OC Bill Lazor, pass-game coordinator Dave Ragone, QBs coach John DeFilippo) get a good hard look at where things stand, and have each guy watch the tape on his own, with plans to reconvene on a quarterback decision later this morning.
“Then tomorrow we'll get together and we'll watch it together as a staff like we always do,” Nagy told me. “And then we'll go ahead and start moving forward. … What you do is you explain to them exactly how you're feeling. You don't lie, you don't make stuff up. You just say how you're feeling, and you put it as honest as you can be. ... Sometimes part of our job as head coaches is to have tough discussions and tough conversations. That's our job.
“I played quarterback all my life. So both of these guys, I can relate to what's going through their minds right now. On Nick's side and Mitch's side. I always put myself in their shoes and say 'How would I think about the position I'm in?'”
My guess would be today Foles feels a little better than Trubisky, for obvious reasons.
And really, as Nagy explains it, he really didn’t see this coming so much either. In fact, he told me the first time the topic was really broached was at halftime, when some of the issues the team had early in the opener against Detroit started to resurface—the Bears, again, were having trouble on third down and in the red zone, and in managing down-and-distance. The offensive coaches discussed it, but didn’t raise it to the quarterback.
At that point, they figured they should wait. Then, the Falcons went 75 yards in seven plays to push the lead to 23-10, Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked Trubisky off on a shallow cross on a third-and-8, and the Falcons tacked on another field goal as a result.
At that point, Nagy looked over and gave Lazor a look, then simply said to DeFilippo over the headset: “We’re going to put Nick in.”
“Mitch was on the bench, I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and told him we're going to go with Nick,” Nagy said. “Then I went over to Nick and told him he's in. It was as simple as that. There wasn't a long discussion, talking through it was as easy as that. And I went onto the play sheet and started figuring out what we wanted to call next."