For two minutes, he flickered, then shone.
Over 10 plays and 96 yards, Russell Wilson was mostly his old self, throwing darts and bombs as the clock ran down at FedEx Field in suburban Washington, D.C. The remains of the Monday night national TV audience, schooled for a decade to always watch Seahawks games because they can count on seeing football’s equivalent of a two-headed calf held by a bearded lady, was thrilled.
Sure enough, the man ran the tightrope, throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to WR Freddie Swain with 15 seconds left to close the lead of the Washington Football Team to 17-15 (box). A two-point conversion was all that was needed to force an overtime in a clunky affair that truly didn’t deserve more air time.
But no. No two-pointer. No OT. No resolution to the Wilson mystery. No relief in an excruciating season for Seattle’s most popular team. Just a third consecutive defeat for a 3-8 mark that’s the most losses since the 2011 team finished 7-9.
Invested in a bad movie, the audience nevertheless stuck around to see who gets arrested for the grid-icide.
Wilson’s throw to Swain in the back of the end zone was intercepted. The flicker was snuffed.
With the turnover went all but the most infinitesimal chance of a playoff berth for one of the NFL’s most successful franchises over the past decade.
On a night when the Seahawks defense was valiant, refusing to let the hosts run away with a game in which they owned the ball for more than 41 minutes, Wilson could not keep it together long enough to beat a mediocre WFT team that was led by another backup QB, this one Taylor Heinicke.
Between a well-done drive on the second possession of 75 yards that concluded with a daring touchdown pass to TE Gerald Everett, and the final scoring drive, here’s the number of plays in each of the Seahawks’ other possessions: 4, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5.
The ineptness couldn’t exploit of one of the freakiest plays of the NFL season. Blocking the PAT kick after WFT’s first score, Seahawks DE Rasheem Green scooped the loose ball and scored for a two-point conversion the other way, leaving the halftime score tied at nine. He was the first in NFL history to block, recover and score a conversion.
Ten years from now, people will look at Wilson’s stat line — 20 of 31 for 247 yards, two TDs, no interceptions and a rating of 110.6 — and think he was good. But that’s a classic example for the old expression, “There’s lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
Coach Pete Carroll was more direct.
“The film doesn’t lie, you know,” he said. “He missed some stuff. I don’t see indications of that in practice.”
Wilson had at least three third-down throws that he missed for no reason other than operator error. At other times, he seemed locked in on a route and oblivious to an open receiver elsewhere. His usually reliable breakaway scrambles for first downs were limited to one. He often seems tentative, but stubbornly sticks to his contention that his surgically repaired finger is fine, and the month off has had no impact on his game.
Defenses know all this, defend him and his play-makers accordingly, and the result each week has been similar: Opponents play a ball-control ground game allowing for fewer errors, force Wilson to throw short to the middle, which reduces third-down conversions, in order to keep him off the field.
In his partial defense, the Seahawks were missing to injury LG Damien Lewis and three running backs (Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer). The Seahawks ran 12 times for 34 yards, the longest 12 yards by Wilson in the final TD drive. Without a rushing threat, Wilson was vulnerable to easy harassment.
The upshot is Groundhog Day Football: Losing the same way over and over.
“There’s been talk about all the different throws that didn’t get where they’re supposed to go, but I don’t know what to make of it,” said Carroll, “other than the fact we keep battling, keep trying to figure it out. I thought some guys were open tonight with some chances. Unfortunately, we didn’t hook up.”
Therein is the fundamental problem: Wilson won’t adjust to his temporary shortcomings, and the coaches can’t come up with workarounds. As the final drive demonstrated, there’s not enough reason to bench a $140 million quarterback for backup Geno Smith, yet Wilson’s inconsistency is intolerable.
The Seahawks simply aren’t talented and deep enough to cover for Wilson’s inadequacies. The avoidance rhetoric around this helps make his evasive, wandering explanations sound insincere and seemingly oblivious.
“That’s how much we believe here, because I love this game,” Wilson said of the final TD drive. “I love this team. I love winning, and I love the process of doing all the hard work.
“I always tell you guys I love the process more than the result.”
When the only NFC team with a worse record is the winless Detroit Lions, perhaps it is time to consider reversing those priorities.
Love of process got Wilson and the Seahawks where they are. A bout of tough love seems overdue.