Finally, after all these weeks, Russell Wilson was forced to answer why he’s a changed quarterback.
He couldn’t avoid it any longer. The entire blue-bleeding city needs to know. The piercing question was clear and direct.
How long has it been since your last haircut?
Wilson laughed. Hard-hitting journalism croaked. And levity trumped concern over Wilson’s recent struggles.
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“One of the things that I did coming into the year was, I looked at a picture of my dad,” said Wilson, remembering his late father, Harrison Wilson III. “It was my junior year in high school, and we had just won the state championship, and I didn’t cut my hair all year. So I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I’ll do it this year.’
“I got it trimmed a little bit in terms of the back or whatever, but I haven’t cut my hair all year. Hopefully, I don’t have to cut it anytime soon.”
And for a brief moment, Wilson relaxed.
For those nibbling their nails because the Seahawks’ young franchise quarterback has regressed from MVP candidate to game manager over the past six weeks, perhaps the image of a calmer Wilson is more settling. While the Seahawks haven’t put more pressure on the 25-year-old — actually, they’ve removed some of his burden — Wilson isn’t playing with the same free-spirited, improvisational genius that has become his trademark. He’s missing easy throws. He has admitted to aiming the football. He’s playing tight, and though coach Pete Carroll has turned conservative lately, Wilson still must find a way to be a dynamic playmaker even if there are constraints.
In the first 12 games of the season, Wilson had a 108.5 passer rating. He completed 64.9 percent of his attempts and threw for 223 yards per game and 22 touchdowns. But in the last quarter of the season, his passer rating fell to 79.1, his yards per game dropped to 171, and his completion percentage dipped to 57.8. Then, in Seattle’s divisional round victory over New Orleans last Saturday, Wilson was uncharacteristically inaccurate on a wet and windy day, completing 9 of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards.
For the only quarterback in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back seasons of a 100 passer rating, this qualifies as alarming. Look deeper, though, and you realize that two subpar games (New Orleans and Arizona) dramatically skew a small sample size of recent performance. The Seahawks aren’t facing a disaster, but they need Wilson to do more than manage the game if they want to beat San Francisco in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
“I think we need to get better,” Wilson said. “I think I need to get better, first of all. It’s one of those things that my confidence never wavers. Every time I step on the field, every time I place a call, I believe in it. That’s never going to change for me.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to get back out on the field again. Like I said, a lot of it is on me. That’s the exciting part about it. I’m always looking for a challenge.”
The staple of Wilson’s two years in Seattle hasn’t been constant excellence. It has been his ability to respond emphatically to his struggles. He doesn’t let problems linger without being fixed. He doesn’t endure prolonged slumps. As soon as you think Wilson has peaked or been exposed, he plays at an even higher level.
Carroll needs to empower Wilson to play his best. There’s no doubt the Seahawks should play off their defense, but within the 60 or 70 plays they run, there’s ample room to be more aggressive. And as much as eliminating turnovers is preached, the Seahawks should emphasize attacking the defense, too.
Everybody needs to lighten up, including Wilson. Especially Wilson.
“We want him to be himself,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We want Russell to play exactly the way he plays each and every day. He’s not going to work harder. He’s not going to play harder, because he’s at full tilt all of the time.”
Wilson was asked if he would be able to tell if he were too intense.
“I guess I’m an intense guy,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that’s always in the moment and trying to be focused on what I need to do to be successful and how I can help other people be successful. At the same time, I keep my poise, though. I’m always relaxed inside. My mind is not over-thinking, but at the same time, it’s thinking about the right things.
“Am I intense? Over-intense? I think I’m just the right amount.”
You can’t be too intense when your curly hair escapes your cap in every direction. The hairdo is typical Wilson: planned chaos, like a broken play that he turns into a 30-yard gain. Only Wilson knows where he’s going.
But you’ve trusted him to get you this far, no?
This is no time to get nervous. The curly-haired quarterback always has an answer.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer