For five games, Russell Wilson was everyone’s Most Valuable Player. And then, out of nowhere, came a midseason slump that ensured we’ll be talking once again next year, with amazement, about how Wilson has never received an MVP vote.
But now, heading into the biggest game of the season against the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks need their core player to play like an MVP again.
Naturally, there are other elements that will determine if Seattle can avenge its 23-16 loss to the Rams earlier in the season, and clinch the Seahawks’ first NFC West title since 2016. Most importantly, the resurgent Seahawks defense needs to contain the Rams in a manner that has proven elusive in past matchups.
But the essence of this game will be whether Seattle can puncture a Rams defense that has allowed fewer yards than any team in the NFL, and fewer points than all but two teams.
That, in turn, will hinge on whether Wilson can reverse what was an uncharacteristically poor performance in the previous Rams game. In fact, it was the capper in a trilogy of uneven Wilson outings that were clustered in near proximity: three interceptions (including one in OT that set up the walkoff field goal) in an overtime loss to Arizona in Week 7; two interceptions and two fumbles in a loss to Buffalo in Week 9; and two interceptions and a lost fumble en route to a season-low QB rating of 57.0 against the Rams in Week 10.
Particularly galling was an interception when the Seahawks were driving in the second quarter. Throwing across his body and across the far side of the field, while eschewing a wide-open field to run for a probable first down, Wilson tried to hit tight end Will Dissly but was instead picked by Darious Williams.
It was that kind of game for Wilson, who was hard on himself afterward. “It’s not on anybody but me,’’ he told reporters. “I put it on my shoulders, and we’ll get it fixed.”
Reflecting on that game this week, Carroll said: “We were a little bit off then. That’s the whole thing about our balance and all that. We just didn’t feel the same. It felt like we played uncharacteristically. Russ made the one play in the game where he threw the ball across the field trying to hit (Will) Dissly, I think, up the sidelines.
“He was trying hard, trying to make something happen, and I think that kind of stood for what it felt like — me as a coach, him as a player, our team — I just felt like we weren’t quite right.”
That game might have signaled the end of the full-fledged “Let Russ Cook” movement that we knew and loved. The Seahawks have evolved into a more balanced attack, one predicated on a quick passing game rather than bombs down the field.
To beat the Rams this time, they’ll need a mistake-free version of Wilson (who had another off-kilter game in a recent loss to the Giants with an interception, lost fumble and 78.0 QB rating). But a dash of Russ cooking would be nice, too, even in the midst of a conservative game plan.
In fact, the Seahawks rallying cry should be: “Let DK Cook.” DK Metcalf was missing in action in the last Rams game, limited to two catches for 28 yards on four targets (none in the first half) while being primarily guarded by All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Seahawks need to make it a priority to get the ball to Metcalf, even if Ramsey is on him.
Just as Rams quarterback Jarred Goff seems to function more smoothly against the Seahawks than he does against the league at-large, so has Wilson at times struggled uncommonly against the Rams. His only two games over the last two seasons with no touchdown passes have both been losses against L.A. — the one earlier this year, and a 28-12 defeat on Dec. 28 of last season.
But there are several reasons for the Seahawks to feel more optimistic this time. The previous struggles this season came at a time when Wilson was constantly under siege. He was sacked six times by the Rams a week after absorbing five sacks by the Bills. L.A.’s Aaron Donald is a singular challenge, but the Seahawks’ offensive line has kept Wilson clean two weeks in a row, including against a stout Washington defensive front.
The Seahawks were without both Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde in the previous Rams game, which put a crimp on their offensive game plan. Alex Collins got the start at tailback, his first NFL appearance since 2018.
Now they not only have Carson and Hyde back at full strength, but Rashaad Penny will be active for the second week in a row. That should open up the possibilities for play-caller Brian Schottenheimer. So should the marked improvement of Seattle’s defense, which can be traced to the second half of that game. It’s much easier to strategize when you don’t fear long scoring drives on every opponents’ possession.
Mostly, though, they need the confident, assured, resolute Wilson that has been his persona for so much of his career. Wilson was reluctant this week to even look back at the last Rams game, but the one word he conjured when asked what he needed to do differently this time was being “super-decisive.”
That signature Wilson characteristic was missing in that game, as it has seemed to be at times in other losses this year. Yet it shouldn’t surprise you that he’s not deterred.
“I don’t have to dig back too far, you know,’’ he said Thursday. “A reality is I have played a lot of great games over the years, and I know what it’s like to play great and to ball out and do all that, so I’m not even thinking about it (the last game).”
If ever there was a time for Wilson to ball out, it’s Sunday.