Doubts about Russell Wilson? They’re ancient history

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comOctober 16, 2013 

When the Seattle Seahawks revisit Arizona on Thursday night, it will have been a little more than a year — 13 months and eight days, to be precise — since they last faced the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

In the chronological context of a 4.54 billion-year-old planet, 13 months and eight days is a microsecond. If time were quantified as money, it would be the equivalent of 50 cents in Paul Allen’s pocket.

But for an NFL playoff contender that has evolved as quickly as the Seahawks, the subplots surrounding their 20-16 defeat in the 2012 season opener are the stuff of a fossil-bone dig.

It wasn’t surprising the Hawks lost a game they had several chances to win. What’s surprising, in retrospect, is that their inability to score a last-minute touchdown despite taking seven snaps inside the Cardinals’ 20-yard line — including four snaps from the 6 — surprised nobody.

This was a team supposedly built to finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7. The bar wasn’t set high. Seattle would take advantage of the seismic-event acoustics at home and struggle to score enough points to eke out the typical 17-14 decision on the road.

A major reason for the offense’s absence of firepower was its unproven

quarterback. Fans had seen glimpses of Russell Wilson’s play-making potential during the exhibition season, but once the stakes were intensified in real games, against authentic starters, Wilson likely would regress to the mean of a rookie given more responsibility than a rookie can handle.

Coach Pete Carroll already had made the controversial decision to start Wilson instead of Matt Flynn, the veteran backup acquired to replace Matt Hasselbeck. One bold gamble was enough for Carroll, who wasn’t inclined to roll the dice again and require Wilson to win games. Better that he not commit the turnovers that lose them.

Of the Seahawks’ first 12 plays on second down against the Cardinals, they ran nine times. When Wilson got clearance to go to the air, he usually delivered a low-risk, low-reward throw that counted as a pass on the stat sheet but served as a lateral.

Wilson ended up with 34 attempts, but his 18 completions netted only 153 yards and one touchdown. The Cardinals pressured him early and often — he took three sacks — and while the rookie remained composed and put the Hawks in position to win, the consensus opinion of Wilson’s performance was that it merely had been adequate.

Matt Flynn to the rescue? That was the hot-button issue of the sports talk shows during the week preceding the Hawks’ home opener against the Cowboys. Wilson had the heart and brains of an NFL quarterback, no doubt, but standing on the south side of 5-feet-11, he didn’t have the height.

Recalling the 120-degree room temperature of the Wilson vs. Flynn debate is worth some giggles today. It’s like paging through a high school yearbook full of photos of students wearing earnest smiles and really stupid clothes.

Reasonably informed football fans argued the merits of a rookie quarterback who would go on to star in the Pro Bowl against the merits of a journeyman quarterback who just signed a salvaged-from-the-scrap-heap contract with the Buffalo Bills, his fourth team in three years?

Really? This was a debate topic?

Aside from Wilson’s startling ascent from game-managing rookie to face-of-the franchise quarterback, the Seahawks pretty much bring the same group to Arizona that they did in 2012. Leon Washington doesn’t return kicks and punts anymore, and fullback Michael Robinson is gone, along with outside linebacker Leroy Hill and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Among the coaches, Dan Quinn has replaced defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who accepted the mission-almost-impossible gig of reviving the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

Otherwise, the 2013 Seahawks are the 2012 Seahawks, only with dramatically enhanced expectations. Losing to Arizona last season fit into the norm of a so-so team that had no legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. If the Seahawks lose to Arizona on Thursday, Seattle area telephone crisis lines will be jammed.

“A really indicative game of the league,” Carroll said after the Cardinals survived the Hawks’ comeback drive. “The margin is just so short.”

Unless it isn’t. In the December rematch against Arizona, the Seahawks won, 58-0.

The morphing of the 2012 Hawks from a mediocrity whose mission was to keep the game close into late-season steamrollers didn’t happen overnight. Wilson, with the resolve of Thomas Edison at a science fair, had to work to gain Carroll’s trust as a quarterback capable of the miraculous, rather than a quarterback whose sole role was to minimize mistakes.

But the trust has been established.

Thirteen months and eight days after Wilson’s debut opened to mixed reviews, the Seahawks return Thursday to the scene of his NFL baptism. The Hawks should win, and they should win without counting on Wilson to oversee the last-minute comeback that fell short last year.

Then again, this is football and you never know, especially after a freak week that turns the practice cycle into chaos. In the unlikely event the quarterback is asked to perform a miracle Thursday night, Seahawks fans can take comfort.

Wilson is familiar with the drill. He craves it. He owns it.

As for the 2012 opener at Arizona, this is a memory best kept in an air-tight bag made to contain a foul stench. The memory reeks of yesterday, and all Russell Wilson can think about is tomorrow.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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