In the offseason, the conventional wisdom about the Seahawks said a strong running game and defense would keep them afloat while their passing game developed behind new quarterback Matt Flynn.
But, after rookie Russell Wilson won the starting job, the thinking changed a bit to: The running game and defense would have to carry them for most of the season while Wilson learned the NFL game.
Now, who would have said after 12 games that Wilson would be the strength of the team? Better than the running game, which has been just as good as expected. Much better than the defense, which after a great first month has been a major disappointment.
While the defense has been blowing leads and letting various quarterbacks pick it apart and ballcarriers run all over it, Wilson has quietly turned into a very good quarterback — rookie or not.
On Sunday, there was nothing quiet about him as he took the Seahawks 97 and 80 yards on consecutive drives at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime to beat the Bears 23-17 in Chicago.
It might have been Wilson’s defining game so far as he completed 23 of 37 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns to get the Hawks just their second road win of the season (against five losses).
For the fourth straight game, Wilson had at least two TD passes, no interceptions and a passer rating over 100. He also ran for a season-high 71 yards — 67 in the second half as the Hawks relied heavily on the zone read option.
Wilson was not perfect by any means. He failed to see receivers on several plays in the first half, with a particularly bad series of downs at the end of the half when he overthrew Zach Miller in the end zone and then failed to see the tight end wide open on the same route on the next play. After Wilson’s apparent TD pass to Braylon Edwards was overturned, the Hawks had to settle for a field goal.
Wilson’s poor play on that series nearly ended up costing the Hawks, but he made up for it with two beautiful drives at the end.
And he bailed out the defense that sabotaged him and the offense for the third time in five games. After Wilson capped the 97-yard drive with a 14-yard TD pass to Golden Tate with 24 seconds left, the defense gave up a 56-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall that set up the Bears for a tying 46-yard field goal by Robbie Gould as time expired.
But, after the Hawks won the OT coin toss, Wilson proceeded to calmly drive Seattle 80 yards, converting two third downs with his feet and one with his arm before hitting Sidney Rice for the winning 13-yard TD pass.
Wilson has taken major steps all season, especially on the road. In his first four road games, he had two TD passes and seven interceptions. In his last three road games, he has six TD passes and one pick. If not for the defense giving up winning scores in the final 20 seconds in Detroit and Miami, the Hawks would be sitting at 9-3.
Instead, they are 7-5 with three homes games and one against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto remaining. Wilson has been superlative in five home wins, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 935 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
But it’s no longer just a home thing. Wilson is the real thing.
In his last four games, he has completed 68.3 percent of his passes (97 of 142) for 1,114 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception. He now has the seventh-highest passer rating in the league (95.2), with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Carroll says Wilson, who was held back early in the season, has full rein of the offense now.
“I know it (the early learning process) was painful,” Carroll told reporters. “We were just trying to make a really good progression with no backward steps. He has continued to grow where we have now come to the point where we want him to go out and do all the stuff he can do. We don’t have to hold anything back at all.”
While he still makes mistakes and fails to find the best play at times, Wilson certainly held nothing back in the fourth quarter and overtime against Chicago.
“It’s just exquisite poise,” Carroll said. “It really is. There were so many plays in there where he had to do something special in the play to move, to find a guy or to locate a receiver. And then to use the right throw or the right decision, or to take off and run, he’s just so beautifully poised and so confident that it gives himself a chance to play at this kind of level.
“Everybody realizes in our locker room that the kid playing quarterback is an amazing kid.”