Since Russell Wilson entered the NFL in 2012, no one has been better at finding ways to turn defeat into victory — his 34 fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks are the most of any quarterback.
But rarely in his Seattle career has Wilson been as quickly and deeply thrown into a hole and asked to dig his team out of it as he was Sunday in Buffalo.
By the time Wilson took his fourth snap of the game, the Seahawks already were down two touchdowns with his pass-happy Buffalo counterpart, Josh Allen, already on his way to maybe the best day of his career.
And while Wilson famously touts a mentality of staying neutral in any situation, on this day he could hardly be blamed if he felt he was already fighting an uphill battle before the game had even really begun.
Wilson and the Seattle offense wouldn’t win that fight, undone in part by an uncharacteristic four turnovers by Wilson, who at times seemed like he might be trying to do too much to catch up to a Buffalo offense the Seahawks defense could never really stop.
While Seattle’s defensive woes were undoubtedly the main cause of the 44-34 defeat Sunday against the Bills, a rare off day by Wilson didn’t help as he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles.
“It was just an unusual football game,’’ said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. “We just don’t turn the ball over like that. But we did today.’’
In general, that’s true.
But this was the second time in three games Wilson has had an uncharacteristic day, the other coming in an all-too-characteristic day for the Seattle defense in a 37-34 overtime loss to Arizona on Oct. 25, when Wilson threw a season-high three interceptions. Wilson has five interceptions and seven turnovers in two defeats this season.
The hope for Seattle fans was that the Seahawks defense turned a corner in the victory last week over the 49ers, against whom Wilson — playing with a lead almost all day — was near flawless.
But with the defense more worrisomely penetrable than ever, after the thought that the return of Jamal Adams and addition of Carlos Dunlap would mean a continued upward curve, Wilson was left to pull off one of his greatest resurrections from basically the first play of the game (the Bills returned the opening kickoff 60 yards and scored three plays later to take a 7-0 lead they never relinquished).
The desperation of Wilson and the Seattle offense seemed evident on his first interception. Seattle went for it on a fourth-and-one from the Buffalo 5 and the Seahawks trailing 14-0 late in the first quarter, and Wilson rolled out, with options for three different receivers. With all three covered, Wilson lobbed it to Jacob Hollister, hoping for the best. Instead, Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer picked it off, and the Bills — who started at their own 20 instead of the 5 with the pick — drove for a field goal.
“It’s fourth-and-one, trying to make a play, going for it,’’ Wilson said. “Not going to just throw the ball out of the end zone. So we almost had a touchdown there. They made a play.’’
It felt somewhat similar to two of the interceptions Wilson threw against Arizona, trying to make plays in low-percentage situations when Seattle couldn’t score enough points. The Seahawks, in fact, have scored 34 in each of their two defeats.
Wilson’s other pick was no less desperate.
Facing a third-and-25 at his own 10 with 9:56 left after Buffalo had driven 82 yards for a score to take a 34-20 lead, Wilson tried to hit DK Metcalf down the right side. But Bills All-Pro corner Tre’Davious White, beaten a few other times by Metcalf, won the battle this time, jumping in front of the ball for an interception and a return to the 3-yard line, which led to a Bills touchdown to put the game away for good.
Wilson said he was “more upset’’ about that pick but added he was trying “to take a shot. We needed a play, that’s just the reality of it. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.’’
But is Wilson feeling the pressure of having to “go for it’’ too often to keep pace with opposing offenses? As would be expected, Wilson said no, saying, “We’re all in this together.’’
But the circumstances of Buffalo running roughshod through the Seattle defense can’t be ignored. Wilson also lost two fumbles on pass attempts as the Bills got increasingly aggressive with their blitzes no longer fearing the Seahawks — already without Chris Carson — could really rely much on their running game.
“We’ve just got to get cleaner,’’ Wilson said. “I think that’s the thing about this game more than anything else rather than trying to make up reasons or whatever. We scored 34 points. We’re a pretty good offense. But I think that we can be better, you know. And today we needed to score 42, and that’s the reality of it.’’
They actually needed to score 45, but Wilson can be forgiven for losing track.
The 44 points were the most Seattle has allowed in a game since a 48-10 loss at Green Bay in 2009, the second-to-last game of Jim Mora’s one season as Seahawks coach before Carroll took over.
It also was five more points than Seattle allowed in the last six games of the 2014 season, to pick one particularly good stretch of Legion of Boom dominance that now seems like a too-increasingly-distant memory.
And it seemed to prove that, for as good as Wilson is, he and the offense really might not be enough to overcome the defense.
Carroll continues to insist better days are coming for the defense, though Allen, with 415 passing yards, became the sixth quarterback in eight games this season to top the 300-yard mark (the Seahawks allowed just 172 passing yards per game in 2013) on a day when the Bills didn’t even try to run, in the first half boasting a 28-3 pass-to-run ratio that seemed to momentarily catch Seattle off guard.
“It was the kind of game that we’re just not used to seeing,’’ Carroll said. “And we’ve got to make sure to put that behind us and get rolling.’’
Wilson, too, promised it won’t always be like this. Maybe the Bills really are as good as their 7-2 record, and Seattle’s schedule softens considerably down the stretch. But to win a Super Bowl, Seattle (6-2) will have to beat good teams, and they’ll need more than Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to do it.
“We’re still in a good position,’’ Wilson said. “We’re still in the driver’s seat. … We’ve just got to stay focused on the mission of staying together and doing what we can do best and staying locked in on that.’’