No, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Carolina's Cam Newton won’t be guarding each other or even sharing the field together — but it still feels like a 10-steps-and-turn-around duel, doesn’t it?
Russell Wilson makes a habit of putting the focus on his teammates, but this column is going to put the focus on him.
It is going to emphasize how the Seahawks quarterback has an opportunity to soar as high individually as his team does collectively.
Perhaps highlighting a showdown between him and the opponent’s signal caller is a stereotypical device of the media hype machine, but this one is just too good. Russell Wilson vs. Cam Newton.
Russell Wilson vs. Carolina
Wilson has faced the Panthers five times in his career (including the playoffs):
68.31 completion percentage
249.8 average yards passing
7 TD passes
4.2 average yards per rush
It almost feels like the game should be on pay-per-view.
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Granted, neither of these two has the all-time cachet of a Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning — but they might be the best two quarterbacks in the NFL. Newton almost assuredly will take home league MVP honors, and Wilson, who won the 2015 passer-rating title, just had one of the best second halves in regular-season history.
No, they won’t be guarding each other or even sharing the field together — but it still feels like a 10-steps-and-turn-around duel, doesn’t it?
For starters, think about what happened the last time these two met. The Panthers trailed the Seahawks by nine points in the fourth quarter in October, then watched as Newton led back-to-back 80-yard touchdown drives. As a result, Carolina (15-1) kept its then-perfect season alive — and though most of the blame fell on the Seattle secondary, the Seahawks’ offense failed to cross the 50-yard line on its final three drives of the game.
That doesn’t mean a whole lot now, but it did underscore a theme that hovered over Wilson for the first nine games of the season: Every time he went up against an elite NFL quarterback, he got outclassed.
That’s part of what makes Sunday’s matchup so intriguing. As outstanding as the Seahawks have been over the past three or four years, they’ve never had to rely on Wilson to vault them into the next round.
But things are different now. The running game isn’t nearly as consistent, and as vulnerable as that might make Seattle’s offense, it also presents Wilson with a chance to be among the Emerald City’s true sports legends.
When I look at the road Russell and the Seahawks have to navigate to get back to the Super Bowl, I can’t help but think of Steph Curry and last year’s Warriors. As magnificent as the Golden State point guard was during the regular season, there was still skepticism from people that he wouldn’t be able to deliver in the playoffs.
But do you what know Curry did next? He took out the other four members of the All-NBA first team (Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, James Harden, LeBron James) one by one. That had never been done before, and in accomplishing the feat, Steph announced to the world that he was the game’s best.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but I feel like Wilson has a chance to do something similar. On Sunday he’ll take on the likely 2015 MVP. And if the Seahawks win, he would face either Carson Palmer (a likely top-three MVP finisher) or Rodgers — who many considered the best QB in the game when the season began.
And if somehow Seattle meets Brady and the Patriots in a Super Bowl rematch, Wilson could complete a Curry-like takedown of the NFL’s giants. That’s the kind of thing that lands you in national commercials 20 years after your career.
Of course, the Seahawks also could lose 28-0 on Sunday after four Wilson interceptions. And if something like that happens, public doubt in his postseason abilities would supplant his regular-season achievements.
It probably isn’t fair, but that’s how it works. The postseason defines your legacy regardless of what you do in Weeks 1-17. Just ask Manning, who doesn’t even have bragging rights within his own family.
You can’t ignore the task facing Wilson right now, When he goes up against Newton, he’s going to be throwing haymakers with a heavyweight.
Russell can talk about his teammates all he wants, but the Seahawks’ fate lies with him. Being the best player on his team Sunday won’t be enough. With Cam out there, Wilson has to be the best on the field.