New England ball at the 1-yard line with three seconds left in the game. A touchdown wins it for the Patriots; a stop gives the Seahawks the victory.
Pats quarterback Cam Newton had already scored twice from this position in the game, and looked primed to make it a hat trick. But after Cam took the snap and began running to his left, Seattle’s Lano Hill blew up a block and his teammate, L.J. Collier, took down Newton to seal Seattle’s 35-30 win.
Hill and Collier were praised as the Seahawks’ late-game heroes, but neither was even the MVP of that play. That honor went to linebacker Bobby Wagner, who A) correctly guessed which way Newton was going to run, and B) forced Patriots guard Shaq Mason to block him, thus clearing the way for Collier.
I bring this up because you didn’t see Wagner’s name in the headlines after that Week 2 victory this season. Just like you haven’t seen his name as much in the headlines of late.
Safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, linebacker K.J. Wright and defensive back D.J. Reed appear to have garnered more ink over the past few weeks. But that just speaks to Wagner’s ability. His greatness has become routine.
“Bobby’s a great football player, and he continues to have a huge impact, and his numbers just haven’t dropped off at all. He continues to be such a big factor for us in so many ways other than just the tackle that he makes,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I think he has done a great job of being in the center of it, keeping everybody’s heads in line and really helping us set the kind of style of play and the tempo of learning in practice.”
As for those numbers: Wagner has 132 tackles, tied for sixth in the NFL. His Pro Football Focus Grade of 81.5 is fourth among NFL linebackers. Recently he was named to his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl — and another All-Pro selection may soon follow.
No, there hasn’t been an interception, which he has had at least one of in his previous four years. But there have been three sacks and seven tackles for a loss.
Compared with his previous years, Wagner’s 2020 stats have been good, but not quite as eye-popping as his best seasons.
So has this year just kind of been ho-hum for you, individually?
“No, you could never classify this as a normal year. Because like I said, there’s a lot of difficulties, whether it was COVID, trying figure out a place to work out, trying to stay in shape,” Wagner said. “Coming into the season I’m pretty sure a lot of people had questions on whether or not we were going to finish the season. So having that thought process. But at the end of the day I’m a professional, and I love the game of football, so I’ll find a way.”
Kind of his like his team’s defense did.
Pretty crazy to think that unit was once last in the NFL in yards allowed per game and on pace to allow more passing yards than any team in league history (they’ve allowed just 82 points over their past six games). Kinda wild to think they had just nine sacks through their first seven games (they’ve had 34 over their past eight.) And as Carroll said, Wagner’s effect on the team goes beyond sacks and tackles.
On Wednesday Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was asked if there was any area where Wagner needs to improve. Nothing specific came to mind — only that, at 30 Wagner is constantly improving everywhere.
“He’s continually getting better and better at a time in his career where most players aren’t getting better. Bobby is still ascending,” Norton said. “He has a lot of responsibility getting the call in, getting everybody lined up, and then being able to get his game together. And then he’s the leader, he’s the spokesman, he does the motivational speech in the locker room. This guy has a lot of hats.”
And based on another stellar, albeit under-the-radar season, he should get a hat tip, too.