As the Seahawks’ stunning comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday showed, the torch has been passed and Seattle will go only as far as quarterback Russell Wilson can lead them.
Russell Wilson has had unprecedented success in his four years as Seahawks’ quarterback, leading more wins than any quarterback ever has over that span. He’s won a Super Bowl, almost won another, and has his sights on a third straight trip.
And yet the Seahawks have never quite been perceived, on a fundamental level, as his team. At first, Wilson was seen as the dreaded “game manager.” Or it was Seattle’s ferocious defense that led the way, and Wilson was reaping the benefits of their prowess.
Or, most pervasively, Marshawn Lynch was the engine that drove the Seahawks’ bus, both on the field and in the locker room. If anything, it was Lynch’s team, in style and substance.
All those, at various junctures, were rightful perceptions, by the way. But it’s time to acknowledge that over the past half season, and cemented in Sunday’s amazing playoff victory over the Vikings, that the torch has been passed.
It’s Russell Wilson’s Seahawks now.
The transition began with Lynch’s abdominal injury that knocked him out of action for the final seven games of the regular season, as well as (after much consternation) Sunday’s playoff game. Whether by coincidence, a confluence of other factors, or the direct result of Lynch’s absence, Wilson elevated his game from that point forward.
In fact, he was brilliant, leading six wins in those seven games with nearly flawless quarterback play. Wilson had 24 touchdown passes and just one interception over that span while the Seahawks averaged more than 30 points.
Wilson was not nearly so efficient Sunday, but the frigid weather precluded a snappy offensive show. This game was about survival and improvisation, and Seattle looked to Wilson to put them over the top in a way that previous incarnations of the Seahawks might have relied on Lynch. As Matt Calkins wrote, defensive players Kam Chancellor and Jeremy Lane approached Wilson early in the fourth quarter and said, “Come on, Russ, take over.”
Which is what he did, providing an astonishing play on that bad-snap scramble that perhaps no other quarterback in the league could make. It may or may not wind up as his signature moment, but it was a prime example of how Wilson is carrying the team on his back the way Lynch used to.
More than anything else, fellow athletes respect poise under pressure, and results. And in those categories, Wilson has earned his leadership stripes. His playoff record is now 7-2, which puts him third in winning percentage for quarterbacks with at least nine postseason starts. Wilson trails only the legendary Bart Starr (9-1) and former Raider Jim Plunkett (8-2).
Granted, that’s a bit of statistical manipulation. It’s an impressive record, but it doesn’t mean Wilson is more of a clutch performer than the likes of Tom Brady (21-8, four titles), Terry Bradshaw (14-5, four titles), Joe Montana (16-7, four titles), Troy Aikman (11-4, three titles), or other quarterbacks that have more Super Bowl success on their resume.
And, yeah, Wilson still has that blemish in last year’s Super Bowl, an interception at the goal line, to overcome. And, yeah, the Seahawks’ stifling defense was instrumental in Sunday’s victory, particularly Chancellor’s strip of Adrian Peterson. And, yeah, if the Vikings’ Blair Walsh makes a gimme 27-yard field goal in the final seconds, it would be an entirely different narrative right now.
But he didn’t, and Wilson was the one who put them in position to take advantage of Walsh’s shank with his resourceful play. It’s moments like that that cement leadership.
Lynch has a dominant personality and punishing style that suited this brash, irreverent team. But there’s no guarantee if and when he’ll be ready to play again this season, and strong doubts about whether he’ll be back with Seattle next year.
Pro sports can be a heartless business in many ways. No matter how productive you’ve been — and Lynch was the catalyst for the most successful stretch in Seahawks history — time marches on. Legacies never disappear, but in real time, a players’ primacy eventually run out.
It will happen one day to Russell Wilson, too. But right now, this is his time, and his team.