You know you’re having an MVP-caliber season when your “clunker” game consists of 388 passing yards, another 84 on the ground, and three touchdown passes en route to generating 34 points on offense.
In other words, not a clunker at all, by most standards. But Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had raised the bar to the point where anything less than near-perfection would be a comedown. He also mixed in three interceptions in last week’s loss against Arizona, including a crucial one in overtime, that took his Most Valuable Player runaway express train just slightly off track.
The good news for Wilson and the Seahawks is that it was hardly a disastrous performance, and one that will be long forgotten if he returns promptly to the record-breaking pace that preceded it. Wilson’s Pro Football Focus grade, despite slipping to a still-solid 87.2 for the Arizona game, remains at a scorching 94.9 overall for the season, best among all NFL quarterbacks. He’s also on pace for 59 touchdown passes, which would shatter the NFL record of 55 by Peyton Manning with the 2013 Broncos.
The better news, entering Sunday’s showdown with the San Francisco 49ers, is that Wilson’s response to in-season losses has historically been epic. He is 31-8 in the following games, the best for any quarterback since the 1970 merger.
“I think the great teams find ways to come back stronger than the last time they played,” Wilson said Thursday during a Zoom video call with reporters. “You know there’s going to be highs, and there’s going to be lows throughout the season. But I always expect way more highs than lows.”
But maybe the best news this week for Wilson’s MVP hopes — which are inextricably linked to the Seahawks’ win-loss record, if history is any indication — curiously happened in a realm where Wilson does not abide.
Namely, the acquisition on Wednesday of defensive end Carlos Dunlap from Cincinnati, Seattle’s latest attempt to correct what has been a potentially fatal flaw for the Seahawks’ title hopes. No need to delve too deeply into the raw numbers, other than to say that if Seattle’s pass rush doesn’t improve dramatically, it would be exceedingly hard for the Seahawks defense to move off its record-breaking pace of yards allowed.
So how does all this impact Wilson and the MVP? Glad you asked. The Seahawks lived dangerously in racking up a 5-0 record despite the defensive woes, then were finally exposed against Arizona, the best team they had faced this season. Coach Pete Carroll has expressed the notion that Wilson was maybe trying to do too much as explanation for at least one of his interceptions — understandable when you have watched your defense give up 479 yards a game.
If the defense doesn’t improve, the Seahawks will be exposed again, particularly in this rugged stretch that includes Buffalo, the Rams, and then Arizona again, with return games against the Rams and 49ers looming at the end of the season.
If there’s one thing that correlates most closely with winning the Most Valuable Player award, it’s winning games. In the previous eight years of Wilson’s career, in which he infamously has not received a single MVP vote, the winners of the award played on teams that averaged 13 victories that season.
The worst of the bunch was the 10-6 record by the Vikings when Adrian Peterson was crowned in 2012 — but that was mitigated by a near-record 2,097 rushing yards by Peterson that was impossible for voters to ignore, particularly with Peterson coming off major reconstructive knee surgery.
For Wilson to finally put the MVP on his résumé, he probably needs to have the Seahawks rack up 12 or 13 wins. And the acquisition of Dunlap — which Wilson termed “huge” Thursday — should give a major boost to the defense when he’s eligible to play next week. And when you possess a powerhouse offense like the Seahawks do, they merely need to ascend to “average” on the other side of the ball to set themselves up for that kind of win-loss record.
It’s kind of a fine line, when you think about it. The worse the Seahawks defense is, the more heroic — the more valuable — Wilson appears when he is able to lead them to victories anyway. But that formula could blow up in their faces, too, if teams keep racking up massive amounts of yards.
Asked Thursday how good he thinks the Seahawks defense can be, once it is at full strength, Wilson replied, “I think our defense can be great.”
Wilson pointed out what he called the “timely” plays the Seahawk defense has made in key situations to preserve wins against the Patriots, Cowboys and Vikings, as well as the goal-line stand against Arizona on Sunday. And he noted that not only will Dunlap’s addition help, but so will the eventual return of safety Jamal Adams, who provided a major impact before missing the past three-plus games because of a groin injury. The Seahawks have barely had their highly touted secondary together en masse this season.
“I think the biggest part is just us all coming together all at the right time,” Wilson said, “and all meshing together, in terms of on the field; we’re meshing together as teammates, but what I mean is that the whole picture comes together, all at the same time. That’s going to be really special when that happens.”
Special for the Seahawks, and in a roundabout way, special for Wilson, too.