Big-time players respond to pivotal moments in the season with big-time games.
This is when the elite quarterbacks — the few, the rare, the rich — decide the outcome of games.
Maybe they don’t just lead their teams to wins, sometimes they are forced to create the win themselves.
The Seattle Seahawks’ divisional duel with Arizona on Sunday night is the kind of turning-point game in which Russell Wilson has to be better than he has been this season.
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Critics will say it’s time for him to play like a seasoned veteran.
I see their point but would argue that the secret is for him to play more like he did as a rookie.
Fans will remember that fearless kid who threw 16 touchdown passes with only two interceptions in his final eight games of 2012. All the while his rushing went from 17 yards a game to 45 a game.
Playing on instinct and with the unfounded confidence of youth, Wilson finished the season with 30 touchdowns (26 passing and four more rushing), the first 100.0 passer rating in team history, and a Pro Bowl nod.
He has been nowhere near as productive thus far in his fourth season, finding himself on pace for 18 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.
Those numbers won’t get the Seahawks where they want to go.
For the first time since he took over this team, Wilson is on track to score fewer points than placekicker Steven Hauschka. That’s a double indictment because it reflects how poorly the Seahawks have done in the red zone.
With the league’s lowest touchdown percentage inside the 20, they have relied on Hauschka to score field goals.
It’s hard to win championships in three-point increments. Another arcane statistical reference better tells that story: Hauschka has attempted four more field goals than points after touchdowns.
Simply, this team needs more Wilson and less Hauschka.
At 4-4 going into the game, nothing has yet been sacrificed. But a loss to NFC West Division leader Arizona at CenturyLink Field could go a long way toward relegating the Seahawks to their first non-playoff season since Wilson took over the team.
So many factors, aside from the quarterback’s play, contribute to the issues — particularly the poor protection when Wilson fades to pass. But when the ink dried on his $87 million contract it put the expectations on the quarterback to solve the problems, not contribute to them.
“I think, ultimately, you have to find … your new self,” Wilson said this week. “Every year is different. Every situation is going to be different.”
Exactly so. And Wilson has done a remarkable job of that in his first three seasons.
In the second half last season, Wilson increased his rushing attempts by 27 percent, and it opened up the offense.
Regarding the need for a second-half surge, Wilson said that he felt the offense piecing itself together in the win over Dallas before the bye.
Perhaps, but only in the final game-winning drive, when Wilson looked like a rookie again, coming up with on-target passes and scrambling for drive-sustaining first downs.
It led to a win over a weak team that shouldn’t have been that close, but a win nonetheless.
After watching the film of the Dallas game, Wilson cited a few big gainers on scrambles he might have passed up that he shouldn’t have.
Against Arizona, he can’t wait that long to assert himself.
If the potent Cardinals offense gets ahead, the Seahawks will have trouble making up a deficit.
A win against Arizona and the Seahawks are on track. A loss and they’re off the rails.
In a very large part, it’s on Wilson.
It’s why he’s now paid the big bucks: To think like a veteran and play like a rookie again.