The assessment by Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine wasn’t derogatory, it was honest, but Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has a chance to prove him wrong.
Here’s the thing: Mike Pettine was right about Russell Wilson.
In fact, it was one of the more accurate assessments of the Seahawks quarterback yet.
Surely you’ve heard the quote by now. Asked if Wilson was one of the best QBs in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns coach said that he isn’t in the Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers/Drew Brees/Ben Roethlisberger category yet, “but he’s certainly played himself into that next tier.”
Seattleites freaked out at the response. It was as if Pettine had called the Space Needle an eyesore, or accidentally mixed a recyclable with the compost.
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You dare say that His Highness Russell Wilson is not an elite NFL quarterback?!?!
Sorry, folks. He isn’t.
But he can be.
Wilson is in the midst of one of the greatest regular-season stretches his position has ever seen. Over his past four games, the 27-year-old has completed 89 of his 118 attempts for 1,171 yards, 16 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 145.9. No other quarterback in NFL history has thrown more than 100 times in a four-game stretch and posted a rating that high.
In other words, after an alarming 4-5 start to the Seahawks’ season, Wilson has gone from unreliable to unbelievable.
Still, 16 regular-season quarters doesn’t laminate one’s superstar card. The sports world is littered with otherworldly streaks from athletes who never rediscovered that supernatural touch.
Jeremy Lin had a six-game stretch in which he averaged 26.8 points and 8.5 assists. David Duval won eight PGA tournaments in 14 months. Kevin Mitchell once hit 11 more home runs than anyone in baseball.
Each of these feats momentarily captured the attention of the country — but all proved to be redwood moments in otherwise pine-tree careers.
Obviously, Wilson has proved himself to be more than a four-game phenom. The man helped the Seahawks win a Super Bowl and was a yard away from a second straight title. But until now, the general assumption was that Wilson was a beneficiary of Seattle’s stalwart run game and shutdown defense. It’s only recently that he has become the benefactor.
This isn’t a knock on Wilson so much as it is context for what could be a legendary next few weeks. With Thomas Rawls and Marshawn Lynch out, the Seahawks’ offense may be more reliant on Russell than ever before.
When Pettine excluded Wilson from the top-quarterback tier, the question he asked was “would you put him there with the guys that can transcend their supporting cast?” These next few games are his chance to do just that.
This is an exciting time for 12s who want to see their star player in a traditional A-list role. Wilson has gone from 11th in total quarterback rating in 2013, to eighth last year, to fourth this year. His passer rating, meanwhile, has gone from seventh, to 10th, to first in that same span.
Yes, Wilson has gotten a lot of help from an offensive line whose improvement has been just as marked as his own, but he also figured out how to be as effective in the pocket as anybody in the game.
Now the question is whether he can keep it going — and the answer has short-term and long-term ramifications.
As far as the immediate future goes, the Seahawks are still a home loss away from their playoff hopes becoming extremely tenuous. Such a result may seem impossible given the way the past four games have gone, but the absence of Rawls and Lynch has to alter the outlook. Perhaps for the first time all season, Seattle isn’t just hoping for some big games from Wilson — it’s counting on them.
And as far as the not-so-immediate future goes: Can you imagine how much fun this team will be for the next few years if Wilson plays anywhere close to this level? The NFL may be the most cyclical of the four major American pro sports leagues, but a great quarterback has long been the antidote to regression. It didn’t look like Wilson could prevent the Seahawks from succumbing to parity before, but you can’t rule anything out based on the past month.
Pettine caught a lot of flak for his comments, but he shouldn’t have. His remark wasn’t mean-spirited or derogatory — just honest. At this point, Wilson simply doesn’t have the credentials to be called a top-tier quarterback.
However, if he keeps playing this way, you have to consider him one of the best. Actually, “one of” might be two words too many.