Russell Wilson is a great quarterback.
Repeat that sentence to yourself. Now suppress the urge to add a qualifier.
Wilson will play quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks against the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs. One week after the Vikings beat Aaron Rodgers, they should know that they are facing a quarterback this Sunday who had a better season than Rodgers, and who is playing quarterback about as well as the position can be played.
Russell Wilson is a great quarterback. You don’t need to add “for a short guy,’’ or “for a guy who runs a lot.’’ You don’t need to add “for a game manager,’’ or “for a young guy,’’ or “in the role he’s asked to play.’’
Stick those clauses in the Gjallarhorn. If there were any legitimate doubts about Wilson, he has erased them over the last seven weeks. Playing without star running back Marshawn Lynch and star tight end Jimmy Graham and working behind a leaky offensive line and without established star receivers, Wilson went on the kind of dominant run you don’t even see in flag football.
Over his past seven weeks, Wilson has thrown 24 touchdown passes and one interception. He has led the Seahawks into the playoffs with six victories in seven games. Without Lynch, Graham and impressive young runner Thomas Rawls, the Seahawks put Wilson in the spread formation and asked him to beat defenses with precise downfield passes to his wideouts. He responded with the kind of brilliance that would get Tom Brady or Peyton Manning their own stamp.
“He can be successful anywhere,’’ said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. “He can be successful stepping up in the pocket, moving around in the pocket, making people miss outside the pocket — which he did in our game. He can do it all.’’
The Brady comparison
Wilson plays the most scrutinized position in America, NFL quarterback. He took the Seahawks to Super Bowl appearances in his second and third seasons. He outplayed Manning in the first and came within one pass of beating Brady in the second. Yet somehow, until the past seven games, he was often more scrutinized than celebrated.
For some reason, perhaps because quarterbacks with running ability are considered high injury risks with short shelf lives, Wilson has not received the same kind of universal praise as many of his peers.
For some reason, Wilson winning early in his career somehow worked against him in terms of perception, because his success could be attributed to the players around him. We never downgraded Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, for the same reasons, and Brady, another quarterback who won a Super Bowl in his second season, provides an interesting comparison to Wilson.
Wilson’s career passer rating is 101.8. Brady’s is 96.4.
Wilson has posted a rating of 100 or better in three of his four seasons. Brady has reached 100 in four of his 16 seasons, and didn’t post his first 100-rating season until year eight, when Randy Moss joined the Patriots.
Wilson has completed 64.7 percent of his passes. Brady: 63.9.
Wilson has thrown 106 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, roughly a 3-to-1 ratio. Brady has thrown 428 touchdowns and 150 interceptions, a slightly lesser rate.
Brady has produced roughly 262 passing and rushing yards per game over his career. Wilson has produced 256.
Brady has made do with mediocre receivers at times. He has also played with Moss, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Other than a brief and unproductive pairing with Graham, Wilson has never played with a receiver considered above average until Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett emerged as game-breakers in November of this year.
There is no reason to argue that Wilson is a greater quarterback than Brady. Brady’s combination of adaptability, longevity, regular-season production and postseason excellence make him the greatest of all time, and there is little argument that Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback ever.
But if Wilson, in his fourth season, already compares favorably to Brady, then we can safely ditch the qualifiers that have accompanied his previous successes.
“He’s Fran Tarkenton-ish,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s throwing the ball extremely well. He’s been extremely accurate on the move, he sees things, he’s got great vision. He’s been playing at an extremely high level.
“I’ve learned he’s really, really good. He throws the deep ball great, he’s extremely accurate on the quick throws, he gets the ball out fast, he sees things, he’s an unbelievable scrambler. There were times when we had him and two guys couldn’t get him.’’
Wilson vs. the Vikings
Wilson has thrown as many touchdown passes (28) in his past 11 games as Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has in his NFL career. Wilson is the first player in NFL history to produce 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and 500 rushing yards in one season.
In three career games against the Vikings, Wilson has produced eight touchdown passes, one touchdown run, zero interceptions, a 142.0 passer rating and three victories.
In the past seven games, as the Seahawks’ offense changed and required more of Wilson as a passer, his passer rating while in the pocket is 145.1, and he has completed 79 percent of his passes on third down. He has used his quick feet and exceptional balance to more often move up in the pocket while looking downfield, and he has become more comfortable probing the middle of the field, a sure sign of increased quarterback maturity.
“He’s always been accurate, and he’s always been capable of being patient in the pocket,’’ Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “I played against him in college. He can beat you both ways.’’
The Vikings saw Wilson in the middle of his history surge. On Dec. 6, the Seahawks won 38-7 at TCF Bank Stadium. Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes for 274 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 146.0 passer rating. He rushed nine times for 51 yards and a score.
Even more remarkable was a two-play sequence late in the third quarter. On second-and-1 from the Seahawks 47, Wilson took off around left end and scored with remarkable ease.
The play was called back because of holding. By coincidence, the penalty returned the ball to the Seahawks 47 and it was again second-and-1. On the next play, Wilson hit Baldwin on a post pattern for a 53-yard touchdown.
Two plays, two 53-yard touchdowns. One by land, one by air, both produced by one of the NFL’s great quarterbacks.