Andrew Luck was the one who headlined the NFL draft. Robert Griffin III was the one who appeared in all those commercials. Colin Kaepernick was the one who reached the Super Bowl. And Russell Wilson? He’s only the one who quietly surpassed them all.
“It’s a good thing we’re in the Pacific Northwest away from you guys, you know what I mean?” fullback Michael Robinson said recently. “So he can just focus on football.”
Wilson has emerged from the large shadow cast by last season’s sterling class of first-year quarterbacks. Others stumbled or stagnated. Wilson, meanwhile, is a leading candidate for league MVP in a world without Peyton Manning.
“Stats speak for themselves, record speaks for itself,” said Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
With last weekend’s victory over the New York Giants, Wilson now has more wins (23) than any quarterback in league history through his first two seasons. He also threw the 50th touchdown pass of his career. The only other quarterbacks to top 50 so soon are Dan Marino (68) and Manning (52). And among active quarterbacks, Wilson’s winning percentage (.767) is second only to Tom Brady.
“These are just markers that this guy is going to continue to knock off,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s so special.”
With a win this weekend against Arizona, the Seahawks can lock up home-field advantage for the entire postseason. That means until the Super Bowl, they’d play all their games in CenturyLink Field, where Wilson has never lost a game.
He’s quietly led his team to the NFL’s best record while much of the football world instead focused on Griffin’s knee or the second-year inconsistencies of others.
“This league is all about politics,” said teammate Golden Tate. “It’s no secret. Andrew Luck, RGIII were drafted first overall and second overall with these high expectations. . . . Then you got this quiet, hard-working guy drafted in round three. . . . He quickly earned respect and comes back the next year with everyone talking about Andrew Luck this and that, RGIII coming off his injury. Russell doesn’t say anything. He just shows up, works hard and here we are at 12-2 in the driver’s seat.”
Unlike some of the other young quarterbacks, Wilson, 25, has watched his numbers climb in Year 2, including his passer rating (to 105.0), his passing yards per game (220), yards per attempt (8.6), completion percentage (64.7 percent) and rushing yards per game (36).
He was recently asked about being included in MVP discussions. “I don’t worry about that,” he said, instead listing the virtues of nine offensive teammates. On a subsequent question, he boasted about three others. “It’s not just me,” he said. “I just try to facilitate the ball at the right guy, at the right time.”
Wilson and Griffin were at a crossroads in last year’s playoff game. Griffin got hurt, underwent surgery and now finds himself riding out the season on the bench. Wilson helped his team win and focused his offseason around making sure his sophomore campaign was even better.
“He had all that time in the offseason to go back and look at what he did the year before and kind of clean up some of his reads, clean up some of his footwork,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
The end result: Wilson leads perhaps the most balanced, most steady and potentially most explosive offense in the league. Nearly 12 percent of all Seahawks’ plays this season have resulted in big gains (a run of at least 10 yards or a pass play of at least 25). While mobile quarterbacks like Griffin and Kaepernick haven’t enjoyed the same level of success scrambling this season, Wilson has become even more of a dual threat.
“You pick your poison with him,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
“He’s a 5-11 guy, but he moves like a giant,” noted Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.
Great playmakers often turn broken plays into big gains. The Seahawks actually practice these plays, though, instructing receivers to extend their routes and slide with Wilson when he leaves the pocket. Throwing over the middle isn’t always the best option for the undersized quarterback, so the play-calling takes advantage of his mobility. Not only does Wilson avoid pressure, but he’s a composed and pinpoint passer on the run.
“We like the sense of pressure,” Wilson said earlier this season, “because there’s a lot of green grass behind it.”
Thus far, Wilson has fit perfectly in Carroll’s system and even better in the city of Seattle. He has a handful of endorsement deals — he signed on with Alaska Airlines this week — but his fame doesn’t seem to have affected him.
“I go to the grocery store. I go to Whole Foods all the time . . . try to go to the movies when I have free time,” he said recently. “I don’t try to live any different. So I think the biggest thing for me is try not to change too much.”
In Seattle, many fans and some media felt Wilson deserved to be the offensive rookie of the year last season, and some think he should be MVP this year. But inside the locker room, no one’s worried about where exactly their young quarterback stacks up against the rest of the league. They have other things to worry about right now.
“As long as we’re winning games, keep talking about the other guys,” Robinson said.
“The best thing about it,” Tate said, “is we feel like the best is yet to come.”