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John Blanchette: The Seahawks have a big problem when Russell Wilson isn’t himself

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 20, 2019

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is hit after he passed under pressure from Baltimore Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort, left, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, in Seattle. (John Froschauer / Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is hit after he passed under pressure from Baltimore Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort, left, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, in Seattle. (John Froschauer / Associated Press)

SEATTLE – His previous four passes had sailed or fallen incomplete, and 20 minutes of clock time into the proceedings at CenturyLink Field, it was apparent that Russell Wilson wasn’t Russell Wilson this day.

But it was his next throw that would bring clarity to just what that can mean for the Seattle Seahawks.

And, really, just how fragile a playoff contender in the National Football League can be.

Is that making too much of one play, one interception, even one loss in a long slog of a 16-game season? Is it rash to suggest that a team with a record bested by only five others in the NFL at the moment might go spiraling into self-doubt over one stumble?

Absolutely.

And hard not to.

Now, it was easy for the Seahawks themselves to cling to a convenient emotional flotation device – their 30-16 loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday coming by the very margin provided by two gifted turnovers that the visitors turned into touchdowns. Besides, no other opponent has a rattlesnake quite like Lamar Jackson to be turned loose.

So no hasty conclusions necessary, they say. We’re on to Atlanta.

Seahawks devotees can only hope it’s that benign.

But it may be the memory of Marcus Peters dashing down the field with all their fun that makes their sleep fitful for a while.

“Just made a bad play,” shrugged Wilson.

It was beginning to seem as if he didn’t have one in him. The NFL’s best quarterback by the ratings math through Week 6, Wilson had not thrown an interception in 202 attempts up until about 2:30 Sunday afternoon. Trying to stretch a 10-6 lead, he had driven the Seahawks to the Ravens 34-yard line and emptied the backfield on third down – three receivers on the right, with Jaron Brown at the far edge.

Peters had already been to the Clink this season with the Rams before his trade to Baltimore the past week. That left him little time to learn a new defense, but an edge in homework. Yet he seemed to be caught in no man’s land between Brown and Tyler Lockett in the slot, and even tracked inside in a fashion that left Brown tantalizingly open.

Or maybe he was just baiting Wilson, having seen the play before.

“I think the whole NFL has seen it,” Peters said.

Wilson needed to deliver the ball – briskly – when Peters took his steps inside. Instead, the Ravens cornerback recovered back to Brown and was there to pick off Wilson’s changeup and return it 67 yards for a touchdown, a potential 14-point swing.

“He kind of threw it too late,” Peters allowed.

And everything changed at the Clink.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” insisted tight end Luke Willson. “We took the next drive down and made a field goal to tie. I didn’t think it was a big deal. It wasn’t like we were shook or anything like that.”

But Wilson was missing as much as he was making; after that tying field goal, the Seahawks offense was going mostly nowhere. And when they did threaten, coach Pete Carroll decided a 53-yard field goal in the rain on 4th-and-3 was the way to go. Meanwhile, Jackson was calling his own number to magical effect – and his coach followed his quarterback’s urgings on 4th-and-2 and got a touchdown out of it.

Yes, everything did change with that pick.

“Somewhere you have to make a mistake,” Carroll said. “You’re going to mess something up. How many games can you go without making an error like that? I don’t know. Russ said something after the game. (His teammates are) telling him ‘Don’t worry about it.’ We understand there’s a burden to that, but we’ve seen Russ do so much.”

Which, of course, is the issue. This Seahawks team hasn’t shown that it’s special enough in any other area if Wilson doesn’t play A-minus or better.

That’s fragile.

Consider that in addition to the two losses on Seattle’s record, the Seahawks beat the Rams when their money kicker missed a field goal, outlasted winless Cincinnati by a point and survived two Chris Carson fumbles to edge Pittsburgh. Their five victims have an aggregate record of 11-21-1. Their only victory by more than four points has been over Arizona.

And until Sunday, their quarterback has been MVP-caliber.

There’s no particular reason to fret about Wilson, and the Seahawks don’t.

“He makes so many extraordinary plays, I’m not worried about one play,” said Lockett. “He’s the type of quarterback you need, what we need to be great. We’re human beings. We do things like that, but we trust him in every aspect of the game – that he’s going to make the best decision possible every single time.”

Well, not every time. Like anyone else, he’s capable of a mistake that changes the game.

We’ll see if it changes the season.

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