Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s streak of 149 consecutive regular-season starts to begin his NFL career — the sixth-longest such streak in league history — is at an end.
The Seahawks confirmed Friday night that Wilson had surgery earlier in the day to repair two injuries to the middle finger on his right hand suffered during Thursday’s 26-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Specifically, Wilson suffered both an exterior tendon rupture, or a mallet finger, and a comminuted fracture-dislocation of the proximal interphalangeal joint. The surgery was performed by Dr. Steven Shin at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan Jobe Surgery Center in Los Angeles.
The statement did not list a timeline for Wilson’s return, other than that he will start therapy this weekend and “it is highly anticipated that he will return to play later this season.”
In the statement, Shin, who also repaired the thumb of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees in 2019, was quoted as saying “based on what I saw today, I am fully confident Russell will return to the NFL this season and play at the same world class level that fans come to expect of one of the game’s very best quarterbacks.”
An NFL Network report stated Wilson will be out “roughly six weeks” and noted that the surgery was more complicated than expected, necessitating stabilizing the finger with screws.
Wilson tweeted a photo of himself in a wheelchair and his hand heavily bandaged Friday night with the caption “Lion Heart.”
The surgery means Geno Smith will become the first Seahawks quarterback other than Wilson to start a game since Jan. 1, 2012, when Tarvaris Jackson started at Arizona. The Seahawks’ next game is Oct. 17 at Pittsburgh.
Wilson flew to Los Angeles on Friday morning to have the hand examined. According to the NFL Network, X-rays on Wilson’s finger came back negative, but following an MRI Wilson had surgery.
Earlier in the day, coach Pete Carroll expressed confidence in Smith to lead the Seahawks while Wilson is out, stating “now he’s going to get a chance, and we are thrilled for him.”
If Wilson is out six weeks that could mean missing five games, since Seattle has its bye the first weekend of November.
After the contest against the Steelers, Seattle returns home to host New Orleans on Oct. 25 and Jacksonville on Oct. 31 before its bye week. The Seahawks then play at Green Bay on Nov. 14. Seattle returns home to host Arizona on Nov. 21, which would be roughly six weeks from Wilson’s surgery. Seattle then plays at Washington on Nov. 29, which would be Wilson’s 33rd birthday.
Wilson was injured when his hand hit the arm of Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald while throwing a pass to Tyler Lockett with 7:17 to play in the third quarter.
Wilson played one more play in that series and then one more series — which lasted three plays and included a complete one-yard pass to tight end Colby Parkinson — before coming out of the game.
Carroll noted that the middle finger is critical for a quarterback and added that after Wilson played the four more snaps, as well as throwing a number of passes on the sideline, he realized he could not grip and throw the ball the way that was required to continue.
“Nobody should question his toughness,” Carroll said. “Nobody should question his resolve. He’d have gone in if he could have thrown the football and held on to it — he would have done it, and anybody that says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You can deal with all kinds of stuff in your hands and you can still throw the football, and he tried last night and did not have the power and the control of the ball.
“So I think if he could have he would have. Let’s be really clear about that. There’s no doubt. There’s nobody out there that can challenge his will and his desire and his toughness about carrying on last night.”
The news comes at a pivotal time in Seattle’s season. Thursday’s loss, the second in two home games for the Seahawks this year, dropped them to 2-3 and assured them of being two games behind the leaders in the NFC West by the end of the weekend and possibly three if 4-0 Arizona wins at home against the 49ers, who will have to start rookie Trey Lance at quarterback.
The Rams’ loss exposed Seattle’s defensive weaknesses — Los Angeles gained 301 yards and scored 23 points in the second half. And now Seattle will have to try to stay in the playoff hunt for the next six weeks or so without Wilson.
Wilson’s streak of consecutive starts was the longest active in the NFL for a QB — Tom Brady is next at 80.
But aside from not having missed a start in his Seattle career, Wilson also has rarely missed a play — the previous time he’d missed a snap because of injury was in a 2017 game at Arizona, when he had to come out for one snap to be examined for a concussion.
Wilson played through a knee injury and ankle injury in 2016 to start every game and played every snap in 2018 and 2019. In 2020 he played every snap other than the final 18 of a blowout win over the Jets.
Wilson was replaced Thursday night by Smith, a nine-year veteran and former starter with the New York Jets.
Seattle also has Jake Luton on the practice squad and could sign him to the 53-man roster as depth.
Smith, 30, completed 10 of 17 passes for 131 yards in playing 25 snaps against the Rams, including all five attempts in leading a 98-yard TD drive on his first possession, which he capped with a 23-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf. Smith threw an interception when Seattle got the ball back with 2:09 left and the Seahawks trailing 23-17 on a play in which intended receiver Tyler Lockett was bumped by Rams safety Jordan Fuller and fell to the ground.
Smith, drafted 39th overall by the Jets in 2013 out of West Virginia, has been with Seattle since 2019 but played only in mop-up duty against the Jets last year before filling in against the Rams.
But he has 31 career starts — 29 with the Jets in 2013 and 2014 — and Carroll says Smith has his full confidence.
“I thought Geno did a marvelous job last night,” Carroll said. “Geno has been practicing with us for all this time waiting for his opportunity if called upon, and the patience that he’s shown with us and to stay with it and, his relationship with Russ and the coaches, he’s been impeccable. And then when he went out he executed like he can.”
Smith last started a game on Dec. 3, 2017 when he was with the Giants, a 24-17 loss to the Raiders. Interestingly, Smith replaced Eli Manning that week, ending Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive games started, which is third in NFL history.
Seattle brought in Sean Mannion and Alex McGough in the preseason to compete for the backup job. But Smith solidified his hold on the job in a 27-0 win over the Chargers in the preseason finale when he completed 11 of 15 passes for 90 yards.
Carroll said Smith has “got that makeup” to be a good backup in not getting frustrated over not playing and continuing to prepare for games.
“It’s not the makeup that Geno would like to be proud about — ‘I’m really good at backing up’ — because everyone wants to be a great starter,” Carroll said. “And I’ve always talked to him like that, that he is (a great starter), and that’s what he will be when the time comes.”
Wilson on Sunday recorded the 100th victory of his NFL career, needing just 148 starts to do so, the fourth-fastest in NFL history. Wilson is in the second year of a four-year contract extension signed in 2019 that pays him an average of $35 million through the 2023 season.
Carroll said he had spoken to Wilson about a half-dozen times overnight and into the morning and added that Wilson had the same attitude as always about the injury and getting better.
“This is Russ at his finest in terms of competitiveness,” Carroll said. “He’s doing everything possible to be ready to take advantage of whatever is available to him. He’s tuned in, he’s focused, he was up all night working, and he’s already flying out of here to go see the doctor. Everything that has been done has been as efficient and fast as possible. It’s looking ahead, that’s how we are talking about it, and I know he will maximize whatever the time frame is. He’s going to do a fantastic job of whatever he is up against.”