After outplaying fellow NFL MVP candidate Carson Wentz in Sunday night’s 24-10 victory over the Eagles, Wilson is 18-5 for his career in December, with 46 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating — the highest rating in the month since the 1970 merger.
Carson Wentz rolled into CenturyLink Field on Sunday as the NFL’s new “it” quarterback, a sophomore revelation who had galvanized the Eagles to the league’s best record while earning front-runner status in the MVP race.
Sunday night, Wentz was the second-best quarterback on the field.
Give considerable credit for that to the Seahawks’ defense, which harassed Wentz right out of his comfort zone, causing him to miss some key passes in the first half and then make a huge fumble (courtesy of a Sheldon Richardson strip) while diving toward the end zone in the third quarter.
“I feel like we did exactly what we needed to do,’’ rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin said. “They thought Wentz was going to have just this incredible day. The receivers thought they were just going to run past us. I’m glad we stepped up to the challenge and showed exactly what we were about.”
And so, critically, did quarterback Russell Wilson, who carries such a disproportionate load of the Seahawks’ offense that a stellar game is a virtual necessity to beat a powerhouse such as Philadelphia. Wilson not only outplayed Wentz but had one of his best games in the Seahawks’ 24-10 triumph, according to coach Pete Carroll — a statement that strategically was not echoed by Doug Baldwin.
“No, I’m not going to give him that,” Baldwin said. “This year? Yeah, I’ll give him this year. But I’ve seen better from him in the past. I don’t want to pump him up too much. I know you guys can do that, and will do that. I just want him to continue to keep going, because we need him at his best for us to continue this run.”
If it’s December, it must be Wilson peaking, and the Seahawks soaring. He is 18-5 for his career in December, with 46 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating — the highest rating in the month since the 1970 merger (minimum five starts). And Wilson thrives in the figurative December of a particular game, with 15 touchdown passes this season in the fourth quarter (including one to J.D. McKissic on Sunday). That ties him with Eli Manning in 2011 for the most in an NFL season, with four games to play.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are 21-5 in December since 2011 under Carroll, whose coaching philosophy, micro and macro, is predicated on finishing strong.
With the Seahawks depleted and fighting for their playoff lives, you could practically see them get their sass back Sunday. They were clearly bristling at the perception that the defense has been diminished by season-ending injuries to cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor. So all they did was hold the league’s top-scoring offense 20 points under its average.
“I don’t really pay attention to a lot of media, I don’t read Twitter. I don’t really listen to the things guys say on other teams,’’ said strong safety Bradley McDougald, Chancellor’s replacement. “But word did get back to me, and they did say some things that we’re not the same defense, we’re nothing to worry about. I think we kind of came out and proved otherwise.”
Wilson, meanwhile, is the engine that drives the Seahawk offense, and he was at his best Sunday, a combination of poise, improvisation and will.
“He’s a human joystick,’’ Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins marveled.
That was personified in the fourth quarter after the Eagles had closed the gap to 17-10. On third-and-eight from the Seahawks’ 42-yard line, Wilson scrambled up the middle for 6 yards, then just as he was about to be tackled flipped the ball to his right to running back Mike Davis (and just barely backward enough to convince Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson not to challenge that it was a forward lateral). Davis scampered another 17 yards, and two plays later Wilson hit McKissic with one of his three touchdown passes.
“Everything you’ve ever done in sports leads you to the moment to make that decision, and then do it and execute it like that,’’ Carroll gushed. “Basketball, baseball, football, everything he’s ever done. It was an amazing play.”
Baldwin described it as Wilson being “in the zone” on that play, and throughout the game.
“I told him whatever that felt like, he’s got to hold onto it, because we need him to be in that mode for the rest of the season,” Baldwin said. “If he does that, we’re going to be unstoppable.”
You can bank on the Seahawks to keep fueling themselves on whatever skepticism still surrounds their playoff chances. It’s what they do, but now with a twist, Baldwin said.
“I think since I’ve been here, we’ve always built some momentum off being slighted, being doubted,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s overstated. But for the most part, I think we’ve matured to the point we’re not just trying to prove everyone wrong; we’re trying to prove ourselves right.”
Wilson being Wilson, he didn’t concede he was trying to prove anything in the head-to-head matchup with Wentz, who might stand between him and the league’s MVP award. Instead, Wilson talked about how much he loves watching Wentz play, how he admires his faith, and a postgame exchange in which he asked the young quarterback to send him a version of the “cool” T-shirt he wore repping his foundation.
“He’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks for a long time,” Wilson said. “But I think for me, it’s really just doing my job and trying to do it really, really well. And trying to make the other 10 guys better. That’s really all I ever focus on, and that’s all that I ever have focused on.”
Wentz passed for 348 yards and had some remarkable moments in the game, particularly on the Eagles’ lone touchdown drive. He threw a 53-yard bullet, under extreme duress, to Nelson Agholor, then went across the field to Agholor for a 27-yard score. But he also missed some open passes and hurried throws under the heat of Seattle’s pass rush.
Wilson, on the other hand, was close to flawless — “spectacular,” “phenomenal” and “amazing,” in Carroll’s words.
“That was Russell showing you everything that he was all about,” he said.
The good news for Seattle is that December is when Wilson traditionally shows his best — a tantalizing thought during a season in which he has carried a disproportionate load of the Seahawks offense.
“I don’t want to give him too much credit, because I believe he’s really good right now, but he has so much more potential he hasn’t tapped yet,” Baldwin said. “So I’m looking forward to him doing that so he can light up the league for a number of years. However many years he wants to do it.’’