Glendale, Ariz. – When it was over, and the final drive engineered by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson fell just shy of delivering a win over the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday’s season opener, there was no self-pity from the rookie in losing his NFL debut.
His first game didn’t carry the same spark that he used to ignite the Seahawks in the exhibition season, a performance that earned Wilson the starting job over free-agent signee Matt Flynn.
And it wasn’t a dominant performance like the one another rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, turned in on his first day at the helm for the Washington Redskins with 320 passing yards and two touchdowns.
But that didn’t matter to Wilson. As has been his demeanor since he arrived in Seattle, all he was concerned about after the Seahawks’ 20-16 loss to the Cardinals was improvement and putting the work in to achieve it.
“I’m definitely focused and excited to move on to the next game,” said Wilson, the third rookie to start at quarterback for a season opener in franchise history. (After Jim Zorn in 1976 and Rick Mirer in ’93) “That’s the way I’ve always been whether win or lose. That’s the way you have to stay. I think the main thing for me is to stay focused on what we can control, how we can get better and just keep fighting.”
Ever since he was grabbed in the third round by the Seahawks in this year’s draft, Wilson has made the transition from college look easy.
In four exhibition games, he threw for 536 yards and five touchdowns while adding 150 rushing yards and a touchdown.
But regular-season games, as it always does, provided a ruder welcome. Against the Cardinals, Wilson was 18-for- 34 passing, throwing for 153 yards. He was intercepted once, but he also connected on his first touchdown pass – a 10-yard throw to wide receiver Sidney Rice to cut Arizona’s lead to 13-10 in the third quarter.
The TD was the start of a better second-half performance for Wilson. Earlier, the pace of the offense was choppy while the pressure from the Cardinals on the pocket was steady.
“I knew they were going to bring pressure,” Wilson said. “I knew they were going to do different things. That’s what NFL teams do, and we changed it up, too, on offense, as well. I think the main thing is just coming out a little bit stronger in the first half, just collectively, and continue to grow and capitalize on opportunities.”
Wilson was sacked three times, but he wasn’t afraid to scramble, even shaking off a potential sack from Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett in the second quarter.
“We contained him very well today, but he is going to be an athletic, dynamic quarterback in the future,” Dockett said. “Today we just got the best of him.”
Wilson showed his best in moving the Seahawks from their own 20 to the Cardinals’ red zone late in the fourth quarter. Down 20-16, the Seahawks were on the 4-yard line with 30 seconds remaining and had three downs to get into the end zone. All three attempts were passes, and all were incomplete.
“This was a great first game for him,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “It was not easy at any time, and he’ll have a better sense of what’s going to happen and the timing of it. He was very cool about it. He didn’t have any problem handling it. That was much like we’d expect.”
Wilson’s assessment of the outing was the same. He still felt like the mature, poised player that executed in the exhibition season, but he wants to identify his reads quicker, adapting to the speed that opponents will use.
Whether or not he guided the Seahawks to a win, the tactical critiques would likely have been the same. But it’s Wilson’s character that convinces teammates he’s the right person for the job.
“He did great, especially at the end,” free safety Earl Thomas said. “He showed fight. He has heart, and I’m glad he’s on our side. There’s nothing but up for us from here. I think once he watches the film, he’s going to see it and be better every week.”