SEATTLE — Doug Baldwin let out an interjection that sounded as though it was equal parts amazement and relief when asked what his reaction was as he saw Russell Wilson attempt a lateral six yards downfield.
“Wooh!” Baldwin said. “Probably the same as yours: ‘Don’t do that! Oh — good play!'”
Wilson’s third-down flip to Mike Davis wasn’t planned, nor would it be recommend in most cases, and it was close enough to being an illegal forward pass that officials may have ruled it as such had they taken a second look. But what could have been a disaster turned out to be another highlight for Wilson on a night that had several of them.
In a game pitting two of the NFL’s candidates for Most Valuable Player, Wilson strengthened his case by outdueling Carson Wentz on a prime-time stage.
“I thought Russell was phenomenal tonight,” coach Pete Carroll said after the Seattle Seahawks‘ 24-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. “I thought that was Russell showing you everything that he’s all about. From start to finish, from the first play of the game on, he was on it.”
The way Wilson started was noteworthy because of how he — and Seattle’s offense as a whole — have struggled out of the gates this season. Wilson has put up MVP-caliber numbers despite statistically being below average in the first quarter; he entered Sunday night’s game with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 71.7 passer rating that ranked 30th in the NFL in the opening frame.
There was no such trouble in this one. Wilson scrambled for seven yards on the game’s first play and completed his first four passes. When he found Jimmy Graham for an 11-yard touchdown at the end of the first quarter, Seattle had scored 10 points on its first three possessions.
Wilson threw two more touchdown passes, to Tyler Lockett and J.D. McKissic. Lockett’s score came in the third quarter and was set up by a 47-yard completion to Baldwin on a play that Wilson changed at the line of scrimmage after recognizing that the Eagles were bringing a zero blitz and that Seattle’s receivers were going to get one-on-one matchups.
This wasn’t Wilson’s most prolific performance — he threw for 227 yards on 20-of-31 passing — but it was one of his most efficient. He finished with an 118.6 rating and didn’t turn the ball over, after throwing eight interceptions over the last eight games.
Carroll ran through a long list of things that his quarterback did well.
“He created, his execution was excellent, we didn’t turn the football over, working the clock, beautiful tempo, decisions, checks — the whole night,” Carroll said. “And the big plays were just coming out everywhere. Just phenomenal big plays in the game. Some legs-oriented, by moving around, and some just by pure execution in the pocket. He did everything today.
“I really think that he had one of the best games that I’ve seen him play.”
Wentz wasn’t bad in this game. He went 29 of 45 for 348 yards, a touchdown and an interception, with the majority of that production coming in the second half as the Eagles abandoned the run and put the offense on their quarterback’s shoulders while trying to catch up.
Wilson was better.
If you weren’t taking Wilson seriously as an MVP candidate, you should be after this game. He’s now thrown 26 touchdown passes, tied with Tom Brady for second-most behind Wentz’s 29.
But Wilson’s case for MVP over Wentz and Brady — the two other front-runners for the award — is about much more than the basic numbers.
Consider the historic degree to which he’s carried Seattle’s offense. In addition to being on pace for a career-high in passing yards, Wilson is also the team’s leading rusher by a wide margin, with 432 yards after adding 31 Sunday night. He’s thrown or ran for all but one of Seattle’ 30 offensive touchdowns, and he entered this game having accounted for almost 86 percent of the team’s scrimmage yards. According to the NFL, that would be the highest percentage of any one player in the Super Bowl era.
And not for nothing, Wilson has been excellent late in games. He entered this one with an NFL-best 134.9 rating and 14 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. His touchdown to McKissic gave him 15, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, ties the NFL’s single-season record set by Eli Manning in 2011.
That score was set up by Wilson’s impromptu lateral. Facing third-and-9 with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter, he escaped pressure from the Eagles’ four-man rush and took off running up the middle of the field. With two defenders closing in on him, everyone at CenturyLink Field expected Wilson to slide, like he almost always does. Instead, he flipped the ball a good 15 feet to Davis, who was running to Wilson’s right and helped turn it into a 23-yard gain.
“Extraordinary sense and awareness,” Carroll said. “That’s a huge play. It was almost such a good play that it shocked the crowd. I don’t know that they knew how to respond to that thing. It was a shock because it was so beautifully executed. It was just an exquisite play.”
Baldwin said he gave Wilson some good-natured grief about that play, telling him he had Paul Richardson open on the right side of the field.
“But hell of a play by him,” Baldwin said. “He was in the zone and I told him, whatever that felt like, he’s gotta hold onto it, because we need him to be in that mode for the rest of the season. Because if he does that, then we’re going to be unstoppable.”