The fourth quarter — of games and of seasons — is when Russell Wilson has always been at his best.
The Seahawks quarterback has thrown 15 of his 26 touchdowns this season in the fourth quarter, tying an NFL record.
And in an NFL career that is now in its sixth year, Wilson has led Seattle to a record of 15-5 in the last quarter of the season, having thrown 46 of his career 153 touchdowns in the month of December.
December has already started in fitting fashion for Wilson with a 24-10 win last Sunday over a Philadelphia team that came into the game with an NFL-best 10-1 record in which he threw three touchdown passes.
The fourth quarter of the season begins Sunday with a 1:25 p.m. game at Jacksonville that looms as a pivotal moment for the Seahawks and for Wilson’s suddenly burgeoning NFL MVP hopes.
Granted, individual honors pale in comparison to team success.
But for the Seahawks this season, one likely depends on the other — Seattle probably can’t win much of anything without Wilson continuing to play at an MVP level.
“I really look at him as an MVP-type candidate in the league and I know he would have my vote,’’ said Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone, who then detailed all the seasons why.
“I think he does so many things well, not just from a standpoint of the command of the offense, correcting the offense, the ability to escape, the ability to extend, the ability to make all the throws.’’
If you think Marrone was just buttering up an opponent, though, he’s hardly alone in thinking Wilson is a legit MVP candidate.
An ESPN poll this week had Wilson third behind New England quarterback Tom Brady and Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz, with those three each far ahead of the rest of the pack.
Brady, having one of the best seasons of his career at age 40, might be hard to top.
But if Wilson is to have a chance it probably rests on what happens the next two weeks — which maybe can also be said for Seattle’s season as the 8-4 Seahawks try to keep pace with the 9-3 Rams in the NFC West.
Sunday presents what is on paper the toughest defensive test of the season for the Seahawks going against a Jacksonville team that leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game (282.5), points (14.8) and sacks (45).
Next Sunday then brings a must-win game against the Rams at CenturyLink that will go a long way toward determining the winner of the NFC West.
If history holds, then the Seahawks won’t go down without Wilson’s best effort.
True, Wilson’s fourth-quarter heroics are hardly anything new — his first game as a Seahawk ended with him leading last-ditch drive to almost pull out a game at Arizona and nothing has ever really changed since.
“I think confidence and poise,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said this week of Wilson’s ability to perform so well in pressure situations. “He has great poise; he really does.’’
That’s not really new or news, either.
But Wilson’s continuing ability to thrive in the highest-pressure situations led to reporters trying again this week to divine the reasons why.
Wilson said having played a number of sports from a very early age prepared him to not be awed by the moment as much as anything.
But Wilson also leaves little to chance, talking at length in his weekly press conference about regular meetings he has with mental conditioning coach Trevor Moawad.
“I think that the mind is everything really for the most part,’’ he said. “When you really think about it, at this level, a lot of people are very skilled; they can do a lot of great things and throw the ball and make catches and run and tackle and do all of that stuff. The reality is how can people be consistent over and over and over and over again play-in and play-out, game-in and game-out, year-in and year-out, and I think that’s the obsession that I love to try to study and learn and continue to try and put myself in as much as I can. I just try to have a limitless mind and try to continue to think that way and grow that way.”
Wilson also talks often about the power of visualization, trying to place himself in situations he anticipates happening in the future, and noted that he has never played at Jacksonville (in fact, after Sunday there will be only three current NFL stadiums he has not played a regular season or preseason game in – Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland).
“I always try to visualize the stadium,’’ Wilson said. “For example, I haven’t been to Jacksonville, I haven’t played there before. So this may sound weird, but I look up pictures of the stadium and try to visualize what things look like, where the play clock is, and all of those things just so I can be comfortable before I even get there. That’s just kind of something that I do on my own.’’
Along with “the limitless mind’’ Wilson also talked of having “a dangerous mind.’’ Specifically, “how do you think outside of the box, how do you function in the midst of chaos?’’
That latter part — functioning in chaos — has probably come in the most handy of any of Wilson’s mental training this season given the nature of the Seahawks offense.
Seattle has had little consistent rushing attack this season other than from Wilson himself — his 432 yards are more than twice as many as anyone else on the team and he appears on track to become just the fifth NFL quarterback since 1970 to lead his team in rushing.
And many of the team’s passing plays continue to come when Wilson escapes and makes things happen.
It’s a hardly conventional method of winning offense — that Seattle ranks ninth in the NFL in scoring at 24.2 per game may surprise some — that probably doesn’t help some judge Wilson against others.
Wilson, though, says only one stat should matter.
“I think you have to be a winner,’’ he said when asked what makes an MVP. “I think that they make their team better, they make the other guys around them better, and I think they’re the best player on the field every Sunday.’’
Seattle looks like it’s going to continue to need him to be that all season.
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