Drew Brees was one of the last ones left. Then, he hurt his thumb Sunday and joined a not-so-exclusive club.
Comb through the Super Bowl winners in the past 15 years, and most of the quarterbacks for those trophy-hoisting teams have an unenviable commonality: They’ve missed significant chunks of a season due to injury.
Tom Brady sat out 15 games in 2008 with an ACL tear. Peyton Manning vanished in 2011 with a neck issue. Aaron Rodgers missed seven games in 2013 and nine in 2017. Carson Wentz missed three regular-season games and three playoff games in 2017.
Joe Flacco had his hip last year. Ben Roethlisberger has his UCL this year. Cam Newton looks hampered by a foot problem, and Brees is out for at least a few weeks.
So all that’s left is Eli Manning, who was just relegated to the bench, and of course — Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.
Please gravitate toward some wood.
The most incredible stat of Wilson’s illustrious career has nothing to do what he’s done and everything to do with what he hasn’t. Two games into his eighth NFL season, Russell has yet to miss a start and has missed just two snaps that weren’t in garbage time.
The first came against the 49ers in 2016, when he sprained his knee and got it wrapped on the sideline. The second came in Arizona two years ago, when he popped into the medical tent for a nanosecond after taking a shot to the head.
Other than that, Wilson — the most sacked quarterback over the past six seasons — has been the NFL’s Rocky Balboa: constantly down, almost never out, and generally victorious. How does he keep doing it?
Some will point to preparation, including Wilson himself. He noted his emphasis on “prehab”
Thursday, which includes everything from frequent massage to sessions with his mental coach.
Teammates such as left tackle Duane Brown and linebacker K.J. Wright testified to his self-maintenance as well, with Wright saying, “The guy just knows how to take care of his body.”
But it’s not as though all the Canton-bound QBs mentioned earlier didn’t do the same. Attending to players’ health is a top priority for every franchise in the league. But given how Wilson has taken 274 sacks from 2013 on — including eight this season — and is still 127 for 127 in starts (including playoffs), there’s gotta be something else, right?
Well, his frame is probably part of it. At 5 feet 11, Wilson might be short for a quarterback, but at 215 pounds, he isn’t small. Such a build is usually reserved for running backs, who take more punishment than any other position. It’s hard to think that hasn’t benefited Wilson to a large degree.
But there’s also his awareness. Wilson might have been sacked more than any other quarterback over the past five years, but few are the kind you’d be able to hear from Pioneer Square. Often it’s him giving up on a play for the sake of damage control, or bracing himself in anticipation. Just because a boxer has absorbed a lot of punches doesn’t mean he has taken a lot that hurt.
Of course, Wilson has endured his share of licks, most notably in 2016, when an ankle injury and MCL sprain erased much of his mobility for most of the season. Seattle still won the NFC West, though, and beat the Lions in the playoffs before falling to the Falcons. To borrow an old Vin Scully line — that wasn’t Russell Wilson’s best year, but it might have been his finest.
Is it good fortune or preparation that has allowed Wilson to keep playing? I asked former Chargers team doctor David Chao, who tweets frequently under the handle @profootballdoc.
“I would add another factor — toughness,” Chao said. “He plays through injuries other guys might not.”
There is also the Seahawks’ offensive style, which doesn’t keep Wilson in the pocket as long as other systems might. And their run-first approach minimizes his drop-backs. But there is one other factor crucial to Wilson’s health. A lady, actually. Last name Luck.
Brown said Thursday that he winces just about every time Wilson takes a big hit. Particularly nerve-wracking was the helmet-to-helmet shot Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree leveled on him Sunday. But the QB survived and will be back for Week 3 vs. the Brees-less Saints.
At 30 years old, Wilson has one Super Bowl ring, two Super Bowl appearances, three division titles and the second-best passer rating in NFL history. All that is partly because of his arm, partly because of his brain, and partly because of his speed.
But as quarterbacks keep falling, and Wilson keeps suiting up, his durability becomes just salient as his other gifts. So fans should give props to the man made of iron, and then go knock on some wood.