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SEATTLE — Russell Wilson was in that zone. He would not be denied.
Three times his Seattle Seahawks had needed him to lead them back from a deficit against the visiting Los Angeles Rams, and each time, he had delivered. So, why not do so a fourth time?
Trailing by five with just more than nine minutes to play in Thursday night’s matchup of NFC West foes at CenturyLink Field, Wilson capped a nine-play drive with his biggest throw of the night.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 5, with 2:34 on the clock, Wilson slipped by two defenders and hopped over another then looked as if he would bolt for the end zone. But then he stopped. His opponents briefly paralyzed, Wilson floated a five-yard toss to running back Chris Carson in the right side of the end zone.
That play put Seattle up by the deciding 30-29 score following a missed Greg Zuerlein field goal attempt from 44 yards out with only seconds left on the clock. Wilson and Co. emerged with a 4-1 record.
“I thought that Russ — he stole the show tonight as he did so much. … (he) played one of the best games I’ve seen him play,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll gushed. “I’ve just never seen him, speaking of magic, all of the plays he came up with his legs, running for one, but also, not to just to get out of trouble, but to find the receivers and make the throws just one after another.”
Indeed, Wilson’s heroic plays just kept coming, one after another.
On a night when his Seahawks faced their stiffest competition within the division over the last two years, and against team that had represented the gold standard of the NFC as a whole, Wilson was masterful. Legendary even. Pulling off one dizzying escape or one jaw-dropping throw after another while representing the epitome of efficiency while completing 17 of 23 attempts for 268 yards and four touchdowns.
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“Generational talent,” Seattle left tackle Duane Brown told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s playing at an MVP level right now, but he’s been the same guy my whole time I’ve been here.”
The Seahawks have no question about Wilson’s worth and standing among his peers. Last spring they awarded him a contract extension that made him the highest-paid player in the league with an annual salary of $35 million that tops Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Jarred Goff and Carson Wentz.
Like Wilson, Goff — who is regarded as one of the league’s next generation of quarterbacks — also recently received a new deal that exceeds $30 million per season. But as the two faced off Thursday, Wilson left little doubt that he’s on another level.
Goff may do a fine job of getting to the line, surveying the defense and attacking. But when under pressure, he — like most other quarterbacks in the league — lacks Wilson’s wizardry.
But for whatever reason, Wilson often gets overlooked in the discussion of the game’s top-flight quarterbacks.
Maybe it’s because he’s only 5 feet, 10 inches tall. Maybe it’s because he directs an offense that utilizes an old school philosophy of establishing the run. Maybe it’s because he’s not often asked to drop back 40 and 50 times a game.
So what that he doesn’t have the imposing size of a Roethlisberger or Cam Newton. He does have the elusiveness of Michael Vick. His diminutive size enables him to slip through creases and on to daylight.
Any one of his receivers will tell you he’s the best deep-ball thrower in the league. Yet he has such a keen feel for the game that enables him to deftly make any short- or mid-range throw as well.
Patrick Mahomes may dazzle and confound with his cross-body, no-look passes and terrific downfield throws.
But Wilson’s teammates would like you to remember that their guy has been making mind-blowing plays for nearly a decade now.
“He’s been doing it for so long,” Seattle linebacker Mychal Kendricks explained. “People always want what’s new — the new hot things. But you know what? The proof’s in the pudding. You can look at his stats. They’re there. I’ve played on some other teams and played against Russ and he has that ability to make things happen. He’s a very special dude. … So happy he’s on my team.”
That “ability to make things happen,” as Kendricks put it, just might be Wilson’s most important attribute of all.
It stems from his refusal to accept external labels, limitations or defeat. Instead, he finds ways to put the Seahawks on his back again and again and give them the best chance to win.
Thursday initially felt like a potentially long night for Wilson and his line as a ferocious Rams defense swarmed the quarterback on each of his first two drives. But late in the first quarter, Wilson found his groove.
Marching his team downfield and into the red zone, Wilson faked a handoff, surveyed the field, sprinted to his left and fired the ball at a spot in the left-back corner of the end zone that only receiver Tyler Lockett could get for a toe-tapping touchdown — Wilson’s first of the day.
Sandwiched between the Lockett pass and the game-winner to Carson, were another half-dozen highlight-worthy throws or runs from the quarterback.
Wilson refused to classify any of his breath-taking plays as miraculous. He explained that he has prepared for these very throws since his childhood when he would grab his father’s football from his stint as a practice squad wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers in 1980 and chuck it around the living room at various targets he had set up.
“God made me for this,” Wilson said.
Then, he explained that as he conducts his artistry on the field, he draws inspiration from another elite athlete.
“I think about Steph Curry,” Wilson said, referring to the Golden State Warriors guard and two-time NBA MVP. “When I think about how he shoots the basketball, that’s how I want to throw a football. Put it on the money, make some crazy throws, make some crazy plays. I love watching sports and one of my favorite guys to watch just how he shoots a basketball. You don’t get there by not working at it, by not believing. You’ve got to love the game, love the process overall and that’s how you make it happen.”
By game’s end, Wilson’s season stat line read 1,409 passing yards, 12 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions.
He holds the distinction of becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to record 1,400-plus yards, 12-plus touchdowns and no interceptions through his first five games.
Brown said he hopes that now, fans and the so-called experts will begin to take note of Wilson’s body of work.
“I just try to be consistent,” Wilson said. “Bobby (Wagner) and I have a saying, ‘Don’t get bored with consistency.’ So, that’s my thing. Just be consistent, stay the course, let wins speak for themselves. It’s about winning. That’s why I come to play the game. It’s not about me. It’s about winning, about other guys and it’s about us and what we can do.”
Wilson only cares that he has his team off to their best start since 2016, which was the last time they won their division. Delivering his team that feat and more will bring Wilson the only validation he seeks.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
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