Should Russell Wilson play Sunday against the New York Jets?
A very good case can be made that keeping the injured quarterback on the sideline will benefit Wilson in the short term and, thus, the Seahawks in the long term. Wilson is recovering from the right ankle he sprained in the season opener and a left knee sprain sustained last week.
Wilson earned a standing ovation when he jogged back onto the field after he was forced to the bench for the first time in his NFL career, but the mood at CenturyLink Field will be quite less jubilant if still another injury finds him in street clothes for the Hawks’ Oct. 16 game against Atlanta.
Such a scenario cannot be dismissed as hyperbole. Wilson is not 100 percent healthy, and the Jets’ talented defensive line knows he is not 100 percent healthy.
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With the schedule showing an open date on Oct. 9, asking Wilson to sit out the Jets game — or, more accurately, requiring him to sit out the Jets game by tethering his body to the bench, surrounded by security guards — would give The Indestructible One two weeks to return at full strength.
On the other hand...
Wilson has the pain tolerance of Rocky Balboa, and the zest he brings to the recuperation process might be the trait most admired by teammates. As head coach Pete Carroll put it the other day: “He’s half crazy about this stuff.”
A very good case can be made for trusting Wilson’s iron-man history. There’s a reason he’s never missed a practice. There’s a reason he’s started 77 consecutive times.
“Ultimately, I love the game,” he said this past Sunday. “I love my teammates. If I’ve got any bit in me that I can do it, I’m going to everything I can. That’s every play — at all costs.”
Although Wilson’s determination to take every snap “at all costs” is at odds with common sense, he wouldn’t be Russell Wilson if he didn’t talk with such bravado.
So Carroll is facing a classic quandary: Either exercise caution with a player capable of taking the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, or allow that player the freedom to go full tilt and all out at less than 100 percent.
There’s a solution to all of this, steeped in the premise that “either” and “or” pose an unnecessarily difficult choice.
Sit Wilson? Use Wilson? How about a compromise? Start backup quarterback Trevone Boykin and — please forgive me for the low football I.Q. that reduces my inside-football jargon to plain-speaking generalities — see how it goes. Play it by ear.
If Boykin is capable of a serviceable effort while handing the ball off to running back Christine Michael and completing the occasional third-down pass, scoring 14 to 17 points should be enough. The Seahawks’ superior defense versus a turnover-prone Jets offense has the look of a mismatch.
The knock on Boykin is his modest pedigree — the rookie from TCU wasn’t drafted — and conventional wisdom holds that undrafted free agents aren’t worthy of starting the fourth game of their rookie season.
For that matter, ninth-round castaway quarterbacks employed on construction crews while playing in a semi-pro league for $6 a game don’t profile as starters, but Johnny Unitas managed to defy those lowly credentials en route to the Hall of Fame.
I’m not equating Boykin with Johnny U — please — just pointing out that unfavorable evaluations by pro scouts have no relevance once the guy they’ve evaluated takes the field.
Boykin took the field against the 49ers with a poised competence that suggested stage fright wouldn’t be a concern against the Jets. He completed 7 of 9 for 65 yards, and while perfectionists will note his one touchdown pass was mitigated by an interception, the debuts of countless quarterbacks drafted in the first round have gone much worse.
If Boykin starts Sunday and struggles through the first half, his head coach can turn the page to Plan B: Wilson off the bench.
Carroll has some experience with this drill. He was defensive backs coach for Minnesota in 1985, when the Vikings owned a 17-9 lead over the Bears, who’d started backup quarterback Steve Fuller.
Jim McMahon, ailing with a bad back and infected leg, had insisted he’d be ready for the Thursday night game, but the short week rendered him unable to practice. Coach Mike Ditka put the offense in the hands of Fuller.
Midway through the third quarter, after another in a succession of three-and-out drives, Ditka changed quarterbacks. Here is what happened: McMahon threw an 80-yard touchdown, the first of three scoring passes in a comeback victory that proved pivotal for a Bears team that would go on to be regarded as among the best in NFL history.
Carroll remembers the “McMiracle Game” — the wires in his mind are so tightly wired, it’s possible he remembers the home phone number he had in 1985 — and no accomplished coach is afraid to be seen as a copycat.
Start Boykin, sit Wilson, see how things go. I suspect things will go fine, but if they don’t?
Turn to Plan B, the source of miracles.