Russell Wilson says visualizing games before they happen has been the key to his wondrous football life.
But could he have ever visualized this?
Could the Seahawks’ franchise quarterback have envisioned 19 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and a 74-percent completion rate in five, otherworldly games?
Could he have seen Doug Baldwin joining Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only NFL players to catch 10 touchdown passes in four games?
Could he have visualized becoming the first quarterback to throw three touchdown passes with zero interceptions in five consecutive games — ever?
“In life, in general, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Wilson said Sunday, “if I doubted myself.”
No doubt about this.
Wilson added three more touchdown passes behind an offensive line that again gave him a trusty throwing pocket, continuing the turnaround to Seattle’s schizophrenic season. Baldwin caught two more scoring passes in the first half. And the Seahawks rolled on, 30-13, past the Cleveland Browns at CenturyLink Field for their fifth consecutive victory.
The Seahawks (9-5) clinched a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive January. And Wilson clinched the best five-game stretch the game’s ever seen.
“His play is extraordinary,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “The numbers bear that out. You guys know what it is in the five-game stretch.
“He did something that hasn’t been done before.”
Baldwin’s scores of 3 yards and 6 yards helped put Seattle up 20-10 by halftime and leaves him with 13 touchdown receptions. That ties Daryl Turner from 1985 for the Seahawks’ record for a season.
Baldwin joined Cris Carter (1995) and Calvin Johnson (2011) as the only players in the Super Bowl era with multiple touchdown receptions in four consecutive games.
“Doug is playing unbelievable football,” Wilson said. “He’s playing All-Pro football, Pro Bowl-type football.”
Potential free-agent-to-be Jermaine Kearse from Lakewood added seven catches for a career-high 110 yards.
The league’s top rushing offense had 182 yards on the ground while using a three-man rotation of running backs — not committee. “We don’t use that word,” Carroll says.
Derrick Coleman started, Bryce Brown came in on the first drive, and Christine Michael impressed the most in replacing injured headliners Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls.
No wonder this is the first time since Carroll became their coach in 2010 that the Seahawks have scored 30 or more points in four consecutive games.
Seattle tightened its hold on the fifth seed in the NFC by containing impressive, scrambling quarterback Johnny Manziel of the Browns (3-11) while overwhelming Cleveland’s 26th-ranked defense.
Wilson has been overwhelming the league since Seattle’s last loss, Nov. 15 to Arizona. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 249 yards. During this five-game winning streak he is 110 of 148 passing (74.3 percent) for 1,420 yards, 19 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 143.6 rating. A perfect rating is 158.3.
“He’s taking over,” teammate and All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said. “He’s separating himself in this league.”
Two regular-season games remain for Seattle: Next week at home against St. Louis (6-8) and Jan. 3 at Arizona (12-2), the NFC West champion.
To think where these defending two-time NFC-champion Seahawks were earlier this season.
“Were we 2-4 at one time?” Carroll said, in mock disbelief. “Really?”
The coach then shook his head.
With postpractice dunk contests and visiting musicians on the practice field again this season, he’s got the Seahawks loose and dominant before entering their fourth consecutive playoffs. It will be Seattle’s fifth postseason in the six years under Carroll.
Seven wins in eight games have the Seahawks within one victory, plus a loss by Minnesota (9-5), from clinching that fifth playoff seed. That would mean a first-round game at the NFC East champion on Jan. 9 or Jan. 10. Right now, Washington (7-7) leads the East.
“You underestimate the heart of a champion, you are going to lose a lot of the time,” Seattle All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “No matter what the record was, we understood who we were and what we needed to do.
“We were never deterred.”
The Seahawks continued recent trends on offense that have reversed their season. They converted their first five chances on third down, including Wilson’s throw left from the Cleveland 3 as Baldwin broke away in the end zone from coverage. That touchdown ended Seattle’s 15-play drive on its first offensive series. It matched the 15-yard drive that Cleveland had to start the game, punctuated by the latest touchdown catch by a tight end against the Seahawks: Gary Barnidge, 7 yards from Manziel.
Manziel didn’t sign $100 bills for fans or make any noise other than finishing 19 for 32 passing for 161 yards with a touchdown and a late interception (by Marcus Burley). The Seahawks sacked Manziel three times (Michael Bennett, Burley and Brandon Mebane), hit him six other times and chased him all day while he impressively escaped and threw accurately on the run. His receivers dropped four of his passes.
“That pass rush is relentless,” Manziel said after falling to 2-5 in his two-year career as a starter.
By the time the Seahawks failed on third down for the first time — on their sixth chance, before Steven Hauschka’s 49-yard field goal made it 17-10 for Seattle in the second quarter — the offense had converted 37 of its last 57 third downs (65 percent). That percentage was in the mid-30s into November.
When Wilson threw a 6-yard touchdown pass in the right flat to Baldwin early in the second quarter, Seattle had its 17th touchdown in 21 trips to the red zone (81 percent). That success rate was 27 percent entering November.
Those are the biggest reasons the offense has scored 171 points in this winning streak.
Wilson’s third touchdown throw further exemplified Seattle’s difference between now and October. On the first play of the final quarter, second-and-15 from the Browns 27, Wilson took a shotgun snap and dropped three steps. Cleveland Paul Kruger pushed right tackle Garry Gilliam toward Wilson. The opposite defensive end battled Alvin Bailey, who was filling in at left tackle because Russell Okung has a strained calf. Instead of taking off running and extending the play, as he did while getting sacked 31 times in the first seven games, Wilson stood in that pocket, trusting it would hold up.
It did. Guard J.R. Sweezy peeled back to help Bailey. Wilson fired a strike that basically caught rookie Tyler Lockett in the end zone.
Seattle led 27-10, and it was over.
Wilson’s been sacked only nine times in the last seven games.
“The offensive line is doing a tremendous job,” Wilson said. “It starts with them.”
Michael had 16 carries for 84 yards, 38 yards more than any other Seahawk. Beyond the numbers, he ran with determination and urgency, knowing this is likely his last NFL chance. Offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell reminded Michael of just that on the field during warm-ups.
The Seahawks re-signed Michael, their second-round draft choice from 2013, on Wednesday, after they had traded him to Dallas in September. The Cowboys released him, as did Washington, before he returned this past week.
“C-Mike showed he can do it,” Baldwin said.
And the Seahawks showed they are the team they thought they were all along this season.
“We have all the trust in one another,” Wilson said. “We are so in synch. We’re so connected. We’re so together.”