When the Seahawks “reached” to select Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, who knew just how far that reach would extend?
Before the rookie quarterback and work-in-progress third edition of coach Pete Carroll’s Seahawks were finished, they had: posted an 11-5 record in the regular season, the most wins by a Seahawks team since 2005 and third-best record in franchise history gone 8-0 at home for the first time since 2005 and only the third time in club history won a road playoff game for the first time since 1983 and only the second time in franchise history and come within 31 seconds of advancing to the NFC Championship game.
Not a bad start for a quarterback who wasn’t expected to – start, that is – after the Seahawks made him the 75th pick in the draft. The team already had incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and also had signed Matt Flynn in free agency. But Wilson made it a three-QB competition with his performance in the team’s rookie minicamp and then won the job with his efforts in training camp and especially the preseason.
“It’s been a very exciting competition that’s gone on, and Russell has taken full advantage of his opportunities and done everything we could ask for on the field,” Carroll said during a Sunday night conference call in late August with reporters who cover the team – a call the reporters thought was to discuss Jackson being traded to the Buffalo Bills.
“And more than you guys can know, what he’s done off the field in meeting rooms and with our players and how he’s represented himself, he’s earned the job.”
But the real story was what Wilson did once he earned the job.
He threw 26 touchdown passes to tie the NFL rookie record that had been set in 1998 by Peyton Manning. He ran for 489 yards, the most ever by a Seahawks QB. He became the first rookie in league history to lead his team to an unbeaten record at home. He fashioned a passer rating of 100.0, the highest in franchise history.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of Wilson after the Pro Bowl, when Wilson led the NFC on five consecutive scoring drives. “You watch him throughout the year, he’s a mature young man. It’s been great to be around him this week to see how serious he takes it. You can see why he’s able to have the success he’s had.”
Fitzgerald then cracked a smile before adding, “The only bad thing about Russell Wilson is he plays in our division.”
But the quantum leap the Seahawks made in 2012 – after a pair of 7-9 seasons under Carroll, a 5-11 record in Jim Mora’s only season as coach (2009) and a 4-12 record in Mike Holmgren’s final season as coach (2008) – was far from a one-man show.
Marshawn Lynch went Beast Mode on a regular basis while compiling career-best totals in rushing yards (1,590) and per-carry average (5.0) and also scoring 12 touchdowns. Cornerback Richard Sherman earned All-Pro honors after intercepting eight passes. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, after being selected in the second round of the draft, produced more tackles (140) than any rookie in franchise history. Chris Clemons had a career-best 11.5 sacks and joined Jacob Green as the only players in franchise history to lead the team in that category for three consecutive seasons. First-round draft choice Bruce Irvin led all NFL rookies in sacks with eight. Free safety Earl Thomas and center Max Unger joined Lynch and Sherman in earning All-Pro honors, while left tackle Russell Okung and kick returner Leon Washington joined Lynch, Thomas and Wilson at the Pro Bowl.
And the season also played to one of Carroll’s cornerstone sayings: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
After starting 4-4, the Seahawks finished 7-1 and did it in emphatic fashion. In a three-game stretch in December, they shut out the Cardinals and Fitzgerald 58-0, routed the Buffalo Bills 50-17 in Toronto, and dispatched the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers 42-13.
The Seahawks averaged 35 points in December and January after averaging 19.9 in their first 11 games.
The defense, meanwhile, led the NFL in average points allowed (15.3) and ranked fourth in average yards allowed – the highest in franchise history.
Then came the postseason, when the Seahawks rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat the Washington Redskins 24-14 for that historic road playoff win and then rallied from a 20-0 deficit against the Falcons in Atlanta to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left, before falling 30-28 on a last-second field goal.
And if you’re looking for the key to what followed in 2013 for the Seahawks, look no farther than that difficult-to-digest loss to the Falcons – which cost the Seahawks a rematch with the 49ers in the NFC title game.
The Seahawks’ 2013 highlight video begins with the loss to the Falcons. And during the 2013 season, everyone from Wilson, to Thomas, to Sherman, to Carroll pointed to how they felt after that loss as an impetus to not feel that way again.
“Our future is as bright as our quarterback’s future,” defensive end Red Bryant said in the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center as the players were cleaning out their cubicles the day after the season-ending loss. “And that means it’s pretty bright. He did a tremendous job. As a rookie, to come in and be able to demand the kind of respect from older men like myself and (nose tackle Brandon) Mebane and Clem (defensive end Chris Clemons), it speaks volumes for the future of the Seahawks.
“They did a great job when they got him.”
And when it came time for Wilson to reflect on his impressive rookie season, he looked ahead rather than back.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win,” Wilson said. “That’s all I care about. Now it’s on to the next thing, the next chapter.”