Russell Wilson was asked Wednesday on his weekly Zoom conference what he was thankful for. As those of us who chronicle regularly his Seahawks doings know, that’s like asking Homer Simpson what he enjoys about beer.
Even Wilson, aware that some of his answers are longer than his deepest throws, lit up a grin: “Oh, man, good.”
After a heartfelt soliloquy that seemed to span the globe, Wilson returned to football questions. It occurred to me that if fans were asked what they were thankful for regarding the Seahawks — restricted to just a single item, lest we lose track of time and burn up some turkeys — my guess is that the response topping the rankings would be Wilson’s good health.
While that seems obvious, the virtue strikes me as acute this week, relative to the fortunes of the next opponent. The Seahawks play Monday night in Philadelphia an Eagles team that, only two years removed from winning the Super Bowl (41-33 over the Patriots), is 3-6-1 and staggering about the landscape like a nun on a first bender.
The Seahawks are at least a bit responsible for the rapid decay, having beaten them twice last year by the identical score of 17-9, including January in the playoffs when they literally knocked from the game the Eagles’ franchise QB, Carson Wentz.
He recovered from the helmet-to-helmet blow, by then-Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney, to start every game in 2020. Just not very well. In ESPN’s QBR comparative, Wentz is 27th out of 30 qualifiers, his 48.2 rating way behind Patrick Mahomes at 85.3.
The decline is sufficiently precipitous that the calls in Philly for a change pound daily on the head of coach Doug Pederson. Many want to see Wentz benched for rookie Jalen Hurts, drafted out of Alabama in the second round (53rd overall).
This is not to suggest that the Clowney blow was directly related to Wentz’s subsequent poor play. But the play illustrates the random nature of QB blows, their profound impact on teams, and the weapons-grade serendipity that has attended Wilson’s time in Seattle, where he has not missed a game in nine seasons.
You may recall from the playoff game that Wentz was injured early on when he ran the ball and dove, then was struck from behind by a pursuing Clowney. No penalty was called. Eagles fans, a sour bunch on a sunny day in May, raged.
Here is the play. Clowney is of course allowed to hit Wentz here because Wentz was a runner who isn’t down. Question is whether contact was “initiated w helmet” or “incidental”. I think flag here would have been warranted but calls for suspension are silly https://t.co/r4UD5KJVS5
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 6, 2020
Booed at every mention of his name, Clowney said afterward, “I don’t even want to look at my phone mentions. I was just playing fast and he was running the ball . . . my intention was not to hurt him.”
Out came Wentz, in came Josh McCown, age 4o. Perhaps the lengthiest-tenured backup in NFL history, the playoff appearance was the first in his 17-year career. Amazingly, the game was also Wentz’s first postseason appearance. Wilson was in his 14th.
Yet McCown gave the Eagles a chance late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 17-9, and despite straining a hamstring that caused him to limp, he drove Philly from its 31-yard line to the Seattle 10 at the two-minute warning, abetted greatly by a 39-yard pass interference penalty on CB Tre Flowers.
A TD and two-point conversion would have tied the game. But on fourth-and-seven, McCown was pulled down by Clowney. A monumental embarrassment was snuffed, and another franchise began to be rent asunder by instability at quarterback.
I asked LB Bobby Wagner Wednesday what was going through his mind on that drive led by McCown.
“That we were going to win the game, and that we weren’t going to let somebody 40 years old with a limp win the game for them,” he said. “That would be like one of you guys coming on to win the game.”
I suggested a one-game contract to prove him right.
“One play,” he said dryly.
Yes, one play would take care of my career ambitions. Which, of course, makes me the equal of every NFL quarterback. Didn’t think of it that way, did you?
Which brings us back to Wilson and his astonishing ability and fortune over most of a decade to have avoided that one play.
“I think I’ve been blessed not to take crazy hits, and trying to avoid those bad hits,” he said. “It’s obviously a very physical game. You got to be able to get down. You got to be sturdy to be able to handle all that. That’s something that I’ve always been super aware of.”
He cited his baseball background at second base, where he learned how to avoid contact during double plays.
“Just talking with somebody today about it,” he said, “how you got to get your feet up and turn, and still flick it over to first base.
“I’m so used to contact. I’m a physical player by nature. But you have to know the time and place to go down and avoid some big shots.”
As Saints QB Drew Brees sits at his Thanksgiving table with 11 broken ribs and a lung recently collapsed, he’ll undoubtedly be thankful that his misfortune wasn’t worse.
Seahawks fans at their tables are thankful for sturdiness and quick feet.