When an NFL team coming off a 12-win season with a $35 million quarterback and the best receiver tandem in the game gets shut out, the questions are almost without end. Russell Wilson would like the answer for all to be confined to his two interceptions.
“I got to play better, and that was on me,” he said after the 17-0 loss (box) at Green Bay Sunday that was among the most futile in the Pete Carroll era. “There were two plays. It was really the game, you know?”
Yes, they were unforced errors, poor decisions.
But there was much more at work to squander a robust effort by the Seahawks defense to hold the Packers at Lambeau Field with QB Aaron Rodgers to a meager output, a feat made more difficult by several dubious officiating calls that went against Seattle.
But before we look at the bigger picture, let’s consider the obvious question for Wilson — fitness for the job after a month-long layoff following surgery on his mangled middle finger.
Predictably, Wilson was having none of it.
“I don’t second-guess anything,” he said. “I have 100% confidence in me and our team, and what we can do, what I can do, and what we’re going to do.
“I think that I know myself really well, and what I can and can’t do.”
Despite the sincerity of his convictions, there’s no way for Wilson to know how well he can do a thing he’s never done before. All the rehab, treatments, practice throws and prayers are helpful, but it’s not the same as engaging hostile fire from one of the league’s better defenses bent on destroying his day.
Plain and simple: Wilson was off.
Just as plainly and simply: It’s OK for him to be off in his first game back.
It’s not OK for the Seahawks record, which is 3-6 and rapidly exhausting its runway to a post-season berth. But the truth of his circumstance cannot be helped. Graciously, the NFL has scheduled for him another game next Sunday, at home against Arizona, which will not be his first game back.
It says here he will be better.
Wilson is hard-wired to believe he is capable of anything. He is way more right about that than he is wrong, and many who have followed him have been seduced to believe the same hubris. But as with a major league hitter returning to the batter’s box after being struck in the head by a pitch, or an NBA player walking onto the court after knee surgery, first returns are hard.
Even Carroll, who knows better, wasn’t ready to admit to Wilson’s struggle.
“I know you’re wondering, ‘Was he ready?’ and all that kind of stuff — he was ready to play,” Carroll told reporters. “There’s no other information leading into this that could tell us any different. He was pumped. Got after it and all that.”
Undoubtedly true. And just as true that he wasn’t capable of being 100 percent in his first game. No data points can top that bit of common sense.
But the data points do offer clues — 20 of 40 passing for 161 yards, many of which were checkdowns or dump-offs to TE Gerald Everett, who had a career high eight for 63 yards. His passer rating of 39.7 was the fourth lowest of his career. WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were targeted 16 times and caught five balls. To ease pressure on Wilson’s hand, the Seahawks operated out of the pistol or shotgun formations so he wouldn’t have to take hard snaps. His absence from under center limited the play choices.
Some of the problem was the Packers defense taking away the deep routes. And some of it was Wilson’s eagerness to prove his recovery, marbled with the inevitable consciousness of re-injury. His repaired finger could be strong and flexible, but it’s human nature to feel vulnerable about a wound for a time.
Midway through the third quarter, trailing 3-0 and facing a third-and-10 at the Packers’ 12-yard line, Wilson was having no part of anything less than a touchdown. So he forced a throw to Metcalf.
“We had a chance for a field goal that we could take,” Carroll said. “Russ tried to get a throw in the end zone. He tried to stick it behind the guy (CB Kevin King) and it just didn’t fit it in. He made a mistake, and he knows it.”
The moment was made worse when King fumbled the ball, which would have been an incompletion and allowed a field goal attempt. Despite Seahawks protests, officials ruled he had possession.
Halfway through the fourth quarter now down 10-0, Wilson, who had never been shut out in his pro career (it was the Seahawks’ first shutout since 2011), grew desperate. He heaved a ball more than 50 yards into the end zone, where Lockett was double covered. Picked off again.
The Packers took possession and 10 patient plays later, scored a TD to bury the Seahawks for the 10th consecutive time at Lambeau, where the Seahawks haven’t won since 1999, Mike Holmgren’s first year as Seahawks coach.
In both interceptions Sunday, the finger, and the passes themselves, were not the issues. It was the anxiety in the judgments. But Carroll wasn’t ready for that publicly.
“I’m not going there,” he said. “Russ won’t go there either. He won’t. He didn’t think that at all.”
That’s understandable. But it doesn’t mean Wilson’s injury didn’t affect his game, just as it doesn’t mean he won’t be better next Sunday.
The real worry for the Seahawks against Arizona, which lost Sunday to Carolina and new/old QB Cam Newton 34-10, is the offensive line. Needing to take pressure off Wilson and in the continuing absence of RB Chris Carson, the Seahawks managed only 75 yards rushing on 16 carries, and 20 minutes of possession, a category in which they were already last in the NFL. LT Duane Brown, on a career fade, left the game with a hip injury, and Wilson was sacked three times and hit five times.
At this point, it’s a lot harder to see O-line improvement than it is Wilson’s return to a smooth operator.
“It’s a big opportunity that we missed out on,” Carroll said. “It’s just disappointing. This was a real shot and we could feel it and we knew it.”
We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge another annoying aspect for many — the result allowed Rodgers to snicker.