Believe it or not, the NFL’s most adept rookie decision-maker, Russell Wilson, had a moment of indecision Sunday. Tied at 13 inside two minutes, his first-and-goal-from-the-1 quandary was to run from the pocket for the game-winning touchdown, or throw for the game-winning touchdown — and break the single-season rookie record set by NFL demi-god Peyton Manning.
After a split second of pondering a blast of individual glory, he decided to keep running.
“I realized,” he said of pursuing the passing record, “that’s not me.”
So he went untouched to the corner pylon. He made the wiser choice, going overland for the winner in a 20-13 tooth extraction of a game against the St. Louis Rams, and ushered the 11-5 Seahawks into the postseason against the 10-6 Washington Redskins knowing that the Seahawks can win ’em big and win ’em small with the biggest small man of ’em all.
“To finish it the way we did, that’s great,” Wilson said. “I’m so excited, I’m ecstatic.”
That would describe most in the local football-fevered community, which completed the 17-week journey from skepticism to ecstasy — and the third-best record in team history — behind a stumpy kid most had never heard of prior to his name being called by the Seahawks on draft day in April.
“Not a single soul on this earth could have imagined he would have done that this season,” said WR Golden Tate of matching Manning. “I’m very happy to be a part of it, and it’s well deserved. That won’t be his last record. With his work ethic and this coaching staff, I can see this team being dangerous for a long time.”
The Seahawks didn’t seem too dangerous for most of Sunday at the Clink. After the orgy of 150 points over the past three weeks, the Seahawks ended up happy with a hug. But first, they had to endure slugs.
Despite taking a physical beating with six sacks, seven QB hits and numerous whacks on his 10 rushing attempts, Wilson tied Manning’s record of 26 TD passes late in the third quarter with a soft toss in the flat that fullback Michael Robinson took 10 yards for 13-10 lead. It may have been the only easy play of the afternoon for the Seahawks offense against a Rams defense that has the look of a serious NFC West contender in 2013.
But after the Rams tied it at 13, Wilson took command of the game late — as he did in Chicago at the beginning of December, when the breakthrough began. With a little more than five minutes left and backed up to the Seattle 10-yard line, he went though 90 yards in 3½ minutes, the final yard coming as he battled with the devil who rarely gets a spot on one of his shoulders.
With four downs to get a yard, the Rams likely would be loaded to stop Marshawn Lynch, who had another 100 yards rushing. So the Seahawks figured a pass play would work. But the Rams again confounded the Seahawks by getting to all receivers.
Already five steps behind the scrimmage line, Wilson leaped away from a potential sack, tucked the ball and bore left. Also drifting left in the end zone was tight end Zach Miller, ready for Wilson TD pass No. 27. Instead, Wilson out-ran the defense to the end zone, his 58th yard in 10 carries with the play that broke a resolute St. Louis effort.
“I wasn’t worried about (breaking the record),” Wilson said, quoting the angel on the other shoulder that tells him to shun individual glory. “The whole thing was to win the game.”
The winning part had to wait for a final interception by Mr. Headline, Richard Sherman, to ring up the triumph. But afterward, as it often has been this season, the conversation was all about DangeRuss.
Chris Long, the Rams’ all-pro defensive end who grew up in Wilson’s home area in Virginia, nailed him for three sacks and three hits. But it wasn’t enough. He explained that Wilson’s alleged liability, shortness, turns into an asset in moments of pass-rush mayhem.
“The target is pretty small, and I don’t mean to slight him in any way,” he said of the 5-foot-11 Wilson. “He’s just not the biggest guy, and that makes it tough to get your target down and try to tackle. He’s great at extending plays, and that’s kind of how they beat us today.”
To Long’s point: In the final Seahawks drive, at third-and-5 on the Seattle 26, the Rams called a blitz and Wilson looked doomed — until he didn’t, ducking and dodging past Long to free himself long enough to find Tate alone on the far sideline for a 44-yard pass-and-run.
Tate had a fine game, yet his 105 yards on four catches wasn’t his biggest contribution. Two plays earlier on the final drive, he recovered a rare Lynch fumble to give Seattle a first down at the 21-yard line.
“If I don’t get that fumble, then we don’t get the big play,” Tate said, grinning.
The if-thens are falling Seattle’s way in the late season. They finished with five consecutive wins, tying the club’s 1986 record. They allowed the fewest points, 245, in team history. And for the third time in club annals, they went undefeated at home.
But home is where they likely won’t be for what remains of the season. That’s the one if-then that didn’t work Sunday. San Francisco had to lose to Arizona to allow the Seahawks to win the division title and get a home game for certain. The 49ers prevailed, winning the NFC West with an 11-4-1 record, meaning that Seattle doesn’t get its valued home-field advantage for the first two rounds. Should the Seahawks reach the NFC title game against the No. 6-seeded Minnesota Vikings, the game would be at the Clink. But that’s it.
So this week3nd they travel to the other Washington for a match-up eagerly sought in the pro football world: Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III, another rookie QB has done a little more for the Redskins than Wilson has for the Seahawks. The Redskins, who began the season 3-6 and won their final seven, beat Dallas 28-18 Sunday for their first NFC title since 1999 and the right to host their first home playoff game this century.
The intensity of the D.C. audience and the intrigue of the QB match-up will push the game to the top of the national charts this week. If Wilson was ecstatic after beating St. Louis, a win next Sunday over Griffin and the Redskins will eliminate the need for a plane to fly him home.