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Matt Calkins: To make playoffs, Seahawks need Russell Wilson to be better than good

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 7, 2018

By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – We’ve seen a resurgence in a running game that has become one of the best in the NFL. We’ve seen the re-emergence of a defense that is now among the league’s stingiest. We’ve seen the blossoming of an offensive line that has gone from joke to juggernaut.

But despite all upgrades, one thing remains true of the Seahawks: They’ll go only as far as Russell Wilson takes them.

It’s easy to see why No. 3 might be taken for granted sometimes. Blowouts notwithstanding, Wilson has missed only one snap in his professional career.

He also has been the beneficiary of Marshawn Lynch and some of the best defensive teams in NFL history.

Even so, I think it’s fair to ask: Is there any player in the league more vital to his team’s success than Russell?

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers was a reminder of what has been true for a few years: If Wilson doesn’t play well, Seattle doesn’t win.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Seahawks will come out victorious if he brings his “A” game, as the Rams game last month indicated. But as the losses to the Broncos, Bears and Chargers have shown, if Wilson is just OK, the Seahawks aren’t all right.

From a stagnant running game to a host of explosive plays allowed, there was plenty to criticize in Seattle’s 25-17 loss Sunday. But that doesn’t change the fact that two errant throws by Wilson likely changed the outcome.

The first came when he underthrew a wide-open Jaron Brown on a go route that probably would have ended in a touchdown. The second came when he gave up a pick-six in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the Chargers victory.

Maybe it’s unfair to expect Wilson to be nearly perfect every time he steps on the field. But the reality is that he has to be if the Seahawks are going to contend.

Yes, a newfound focus on the ground game was a major factor in the Seahawks winning four of the five games they played before Sunday. And yes, Wilson threw just 17 times in Seattle’s 14-point win over Detroit.

But a big reason the Seahawks have run the ball so efficiently is because of the threat Wilson presents. Is he the NFL’s most valuable player? No. But I’m not sure any team depends on one player more.

Sentences such as the one above likely don’t go over well in the Seahawks’ locker room. Stories from ESPN and Sports Illustrated have highlighted some jealousy that Wilson’s star power begets.

But the truth is the truth: If Russell is off his game, an “L” is on the horizon.

With the Seahawks at 4-4 at the midway point, it’s not a stretch to say the next couple of games could define their season. A road game against the Rams followed by a Thursday night matchup with the Packers at CenturyLink Field likely will determine whether Seattle plays a 17th game this season.

If they pull out victories against either of those teams, it will be because their quarterback played at a first-tier level. Performances such as the one Sunday just won’t cut it.

As Wilson himself said after Sunday’s loss: “One, two, three plays here or there, and we feel like we’d be celebrating in the locker room right now.”

The thing is, Russell is the one who could have made those two or three plays to change the result.

The Seahawks probably (certainly?) never would have won a Super Bowl if Wilson didn’t come along. But the team’s hierarchy has changed since those championship days, with Wilson sitting at the top of the totem pole.

He has achieved great success as a guy for the Seahawks, but I’m not sure he’s had that moment as the guy.

The second half of this season will present that opportunity for Wilson. For the Seahawks to have any chance at the playoffs, he has to be great.

It might not be fair, but it’s true. Wilson simply being good won’t be good enough.

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