“I love winning, I love winning, I love winning, I love winning,” Russell Wilson said Sunday after Seattle’s 38-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Winning isn’t new to Wilson—he’s been doing it for most of his career. Wilson’s Seahawks have gone 89-41-1 since he entered the NFL in 2012, the best record of any team after the Patriots. He has earned one Super Bowl ring, nearly got another, and in nine seasons, he’s missed just two total snaps (not counting garbage time). Since he entered the league, Wilson has been the most successful and dependable quarterback this side of Tom Brady. What’s new this year, though, is the way Seattle is winning.
Wilson has recorded 14 touchdown passes so far this season, the most through three games in NFL history and double his previous three-game high. He is also the first player to ever have at least four touchdown passes in each of his first three games in a season, and he is on pace to rack up 74 touchdown passes in 2020. Woof. Those numbers are partially a product of head coach Pete Carroll’s dramatic rethinking of Seattle’s outdated ground-and-pound running approach, and so far, so good. The team is 3-0 for the first time since 2013, when Seattle went 13-3 and won a Super Bowl.
But the Seahawks aren’t driven by the Legion of Boom anymore, nor by a Marshawn Lynch–led run game. Instead, they’ve found a different way to win: by leaning on their 31-year-old quarterback.
Wilson’s parabolic touchdown passes, ridiculous ability to extend plays with his legs, and constant calmness amidst chaos has the Seahawks looking like the most well-oiled of the NFL’s many passing machines. This Seattle offense doesn’t have the gravitas of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, or the magic of Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, or the revolutionary status of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, but no offense has looked better—or more effortless—through three weeks. Wilson is already commanding MVP buzz, which means diddly squat in September, but the changes to Seattle’s offense are real and spectacular, and this team looks like a bona fide Super Bowl contender.
While Wilson has had perhaps the best start to a season of any quarterback ever, Seattle’s defense has had one of the worst. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed a full Columbus: 1,492 total yards. The only team in league history to give up more yards through three games is last year’s Miami Dolphins. This Seattle group is about as far away as possible from the Legion of Boom days. It had just three sacks total entering Week 3 and features one of the most barren pass rushes in the NFL. That lack of pressure meant plenty of time for Dak Prescott on Sunday, and injuries throughout the secondary gave him plenty of windows to throw into. Safety Jamal Adams left Sunday’s game with a groin injury, and the team has placed safety Marquise Blair and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin on injured reserve. As a result, Prescott carved that banged-up unit for a career-high 472 passing yards.
The defense still walks like the Seahawks and quacks like Seahawks (thanks to Adams), but they no longer defend like the Seahawks. And that seesaw effect has sent Seattle’s offense soaring.
With the defense looking as bad as it has through the first three weeks, the Seahawks know they need to score as often as possible. Fortunately, that defensive decline has been offset by an attitude adjustment for Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Rather than stubbornly sticking to their run-first strategy—the one that gave the 2018 Seahawks the heaviest run ratio since the Tim Tebow Broncos in 2011—they’re finally letting Wilson air it out. Almost overnight, Schottenheimer has gone from the second-most run-heavy play caller of the last five seasons to Winston Churchill in the Battle of London.
Wilson and the offense are happy to oblige. Russ saved the defense on Sunday with 315 passing yards and five passing touchdowns, which would have been six if receiver DK Metcalf had finished a 63-yard run to the end zone rather than getting stripped at the goal line (never has fumbling been so humbling). Even with that play, though, Metcalf is on pace to almost double his receiving yardage from last season and more than double his touchdown total.
Similarly, receiver Tyler Lockett, who turned 28 on Monday, coleads the NFL in receiving touchdowns and on Sunday tied his career high for receiving touchdowns in a game (three). Wilson and Lockett are on the short list for the best connection between any QB and wideout in the NFL, rivaled only by Rodgers and Davante Adams. Whenever Wilson needs to find someone, no matter how late it is, Lockett is always open. “I think the best part about me is I’m kind of small, so I can try to wiggle my way through everybody,” Lockett told reporters after the game. “You just have to try to figure out how to make it work.”
Even tight end Greg Olsen, who already has a post-career announcing contract with Fox Sports, contributed five catches for 61 yards on Sunday. Wilson is turning guys who could be in the broadcast booth into real contributors. He’s thrown a touchdown on a ridiculous 14 percent of his passes, which is akin to rolling a dice and getting six points every time it lands on six.
Not only is Wilson thriving, but he has the rarest of NFL resources: time. For years, Wilson was playing DIY football. Seattle had no gameplan and no pass protection, so Wilson had to take the ball, avoid the pass rush, and pull some first downs out of his ass. In the two years BM (Before Mahomes), the most exciting play in football was watching the Seahawks on third-and-10. Russ would bail from a collapsing pocket, scramble away from three defenders, and do whatever it took to get a first down.
Wilson got into that habit because the Seahawks’ blocking was pathetic. Wilson has been one of the six most-pressured quarterbacks per dropback in every season since 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. But this year, we can be cautiously optimistic that this is no longer the case—though Seahawks fans should still knock on wood. Wilson’s pass protection is getting noticeably better. He had an average time of 3.4 seconds to throw this week, the longest in the NFL for Week 3. Seattle’s offensive line also passed the eye test, giving Wilson multiple pockets where he had four or five full seconds to throw without a rusher in his face—something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. This unit is not great by any means, but thus far they have cleared an exceedingly low bar.
Unfortunately for this fireworks show, rookie right guard Damien Lewis left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle (X-rays were negative for a break). Not only did Lewis get hurt, but running back Chris Carson suffered a knee sprain when Cowboys defensive tackle Trysten Hill did a “gator roll” while holding on to Carson’s leg (not for the faint of heart). Carson’s injury comes to a running back group that’s already missing Rashaad Penny, who’s recovering from an ACL tear, leaving the Seahawks with Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer as lead rushers. The team will subsequently have to rely on Wilson even more than usual—but that isn’t exactly a daunting proposition. The Seahawks are 58-0 with Wilson when they are leading at halftime.
Wilson is either the best quarterback in the NFL right now, or one of the four best along with Mahomes, Rodgers, and Jackson. But while Mahomes and Rodgers were stars from the moment they became starters, Wilson’s path to this point was, like his deep throws, a long arc. Going from a third-round pick to game managing a Super Bowl win, to throwing away a second Super Bowl win, to becoming a clutch comeback artist, to signing a deal as football’s richest quarterback, to now being the MVP favorite is a slow burn. While Wilson has achieved tremendous team success, he has not been acknowledged as a dominant individual player until his 30s. The only recent example for that kind of comeup is Tom Brady, who went from a game manager for New England’s first Super Bowl trilogy and then leveled up during New England’s 18-1 season in 2007.
Unlike Brady, though, Wilson has famously never received an MVP vote—though Cris Collinsworth said on Sunday Night Football last week that he would have voted for Wilson last year had he made the voting deadline (speaking of which, don’t be Cris Collinsworth: register to vote). If Wilson keeps playing at this level, he’ll get plenty of votes this year. MVP is a team award disguised as an individual one. A dozen of the last 13 winners have been quarterbacks whose team earned a first-round bye. If the Seahawks get the top seed in the NFC this season, Wilson is all but assured the award.
It feels bizarre lauding Wilson as the league’s best quarterback when Mahomes and Jackson, the previous two MVP winners, are set to play in an epic Monday Night Football matchup, but here we are. Wilson is off to a historic start and is now firmly among the NFL’s elite, even if it took longer to get there than most quarterbacks. Despite that drawn-out journey, or maybe because of it, Russ and the Seahawks are back to their winning ways—and not only are they winning, but they are winning in a way that’s a lot easier to love.