Never mind all the troubling things that happened to the Seahawks on Thursday night in a crushing 26-17 loss to the Rams — specifically from a Seattle defense that at critical times offered shockingly little resistance and yielded 476 yards.
Those breakdowns didn’t come close to reflecting the nightmare scenario that unfolded late in the game.
One constant the Seahawks have had through their dynasty years, and through the ongoing quest to get back to that level, has been No. 3 under center. Few quarterbacks in history have been more durable than Russell Wilson, to the point you sometimes forget that he’s playing a brutally violent game that makes him as vulnerable as anyone else to an injury.
The one thing that the Seahawks have long dreaded, and miraculously avoided for a decade, came to pass Thursday on a seemingly innocuous play in the third quarter.
On an unsuccessful pass to Tyler Lockett, Wilson emerged with a badly sprained middle finger on his throwing hand, apparently from hitting onrushing Aaron Donald, a longtime nemesis. On television, you could see the finger bent in a direction that was not natural.
Wilson tried to play one more series, but it was obvious that he could not grip the ball satisfactorily to lead the requisite pass attack it would take to overcome the Rams. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that Wilson and the medical staff concluded that it wasn’t prudent for the quarterback to continue — which was a shock to the senses because Wilson always had found a way to get back out on the field, no matter how dire it seemed.
His replacement, Geno Smith, performed valiantly when forced into the game, producing 10 points in under seven minutes that gave the Seahawks a shot to win. But that storybook scenario dissolved when Smith, who had thrown a mere nine passes in mop-up duty over the past three years, yielded an interception with just over two minutes to play.
Now the Seahawks are not only dealing with a sub-.500 record, and trying to figure out how to patch up a porous pass defense that made it far too easy for Matt Stafford to move down field (most egregiously on a 68-yard completion on third-and-10 that changed the entire tenor of the game).
They also are facing the prospect of life without the quarterback who has produced more victories at this stage of his career than any QB in history.
Carroll had few answers to a litany of postgame questions about the extent of Wilson’s injury, or the potential length of his absence. He did call Wilson “one of the great healers of all-time,” which is a subtle way of saying that if anyone can find a way to play in Seattle’s next game a week from Sunday in Pittsburgh, it’s Wilson.
“He’s been just remarkably durable,” Carroll said. “And what’s the marvelous part about it is his attitude and how he approaches it. I mean, he is going to heal. He’s going to heal himself. … He makes stuff happen, you know — and marvelous things.”
Indeed, among the overlooked qualities in Wilson’s superb run as Seahawks quarterback has been his staying power. As many sacks as he’s taken over the years (far too many, as every Seahawks fan knows all too well); as many hits as he’s absorbed; he takes a lickin’ and keeps on throwin’.
In fact, in 148 previous starts since he joined the league in 2012, Wilson had missed a grand total of two plays by virtue of injury. In 2016, he was so hobbled by an ankle injury that it seemed nigh impossible he wouldn’t have to take some time off to heal. But week after week, he kept hobbling out there and wound up throwing for the most yards of his career that season in leading Seattle back to the playoffs.
Of course, there are injuries that even the most tenacious player, with the highest pain tolerance, can’t play through. The medical tests Wilson will take in the coming days will provide that answer. If he misses more time, the Seahawks will be relying on Smith, who hasn’t played regularly since 2014 with the Jets. And they’ll be doing so with precious little margin to absorb more losses if they want to hang in the playoff race.
Smith, who turns 31 Sunday, gave reason for optimism if that circumstance arises with a gutty performance off the bench. On his first drive, he led the Seahawks brilliantly down the field 98 yards for a touchdown, hitting DK Metcalf with a perfectly thrown 23-yard pass in the end zone. Far from being rusty, Smith played with precision, completing 5-of-5 passes for 72 yards while running 6 yards on the scoring drive, which cut LA’s lead to 16-14.
Smith’s next drive, after a Rams’ touchdown, advanced all the way to the LA 14 before it stalled, producing a field goal. And when the Seahawks forced a punt on the Rams’ next possession, “We had a chance to win a football game with all that — the ball in our hands and a couple minutes to go,” Carroll reflected afterward.
In the second massive anticlimax in Seattle sports this week — following the Mariners’ fade from the wild-card race on the final weekend — Smith’s final pass, with the Lumen Field fans reaching cacophony level of frenzy, resulted in an interception as Lockett was tripped as he moved downfield.
Thus ended the Seahawks’ hopes of pulling out a miracle victory. Now they must ponder the prospect of life without Wilson for whatever length of time that transpires, if at all.
It’s a brand-new set of worries for the Seahawks, whose quarterback has been as reliable as the tides for a decade. It’s the last thing they wanted, or expected, to worry about.
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