Russell Wilson cool under playoff pressure

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
10:55
AM ET
RENTON, Wash. -- Just like Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, receiver Jermaine Kearse was one of seven Seattle rookies in the 2012 season who were experiencing life in the NFL playoffs for the first time.

Kearse, however, said there was one big difference in how Wilson acted and reacted in the postseason, compared to all of the other rookies.

“It felt [like] he was a 10-year veteran out there,” Kearse said. “Heck, he was like that the first day I met him. Now he’s like a 20-year vet.”

Wilson leads the Seahawks against the New Orleans Saints in a NFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the first home playoff game of his career.

The playoffs were uncharted territory last season for Wilson, a quarterback completing his first NFL season with a shot at reaching the Super Bowl. That didn’t happen, but his skills got national attention. He had proven himself as the starter all season, but no one knew for sure how he would handle the playoff pressure. Everyone found out.

Wilson led the Seahawks to a 24-14 comeback victory against the Redskins in Washington to begin the playoffs. He directed another dramatic comeback in Atlanta one week later that almost paid off before the Falcons kicked a late field goal to advance 30-28.

Despite the loss, it was Wilson’s coming-out party for many national viewers who were watching him for the first time.

“The playoffs have so much focus and so much attention that guys can make a reputation for themselves in those games alone,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It was a phenomenal comeback in Atlanta that put us in position to win that game.

“I think that added to Russell’s season. He had great numbers in the postseason. He just seems to rise up and always capture the moment. Hopefully, he can do it in this playoff run. He’s pumped up. I can see it. He gets a little glint in his eye that lets you know, this is what he lives for.”

It’s no coincidence that many of the best quarterbacks in the NFL are the ones still standing among the eight playoff teams left in the fight.

Four are old-school guys -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers -- who are more traditional pocket-style passers. Four are young guns -- Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Wilson -- who can run and throw.

“I think to be a really good quarterback, you have to be clutch,” Wilson said. “When you watch these past games the last few weeks, a lot of guys have been clutch and made a lot of great plays. That’s what the game is supposed to be about and that’s what the quarterback position is all about.

“You think about the Tom Bradys of the world and that’s what makes him one of the best quarterbacks of all time, just because he’s been clutch in the playoffs. And the same is true for Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and all those other guys as well.”

Saying which of the eight remaining playoff quarterbacks is the best at it depends on whom you ask, but take a wild guess which man most of the Seahawks chose.

“Well, I’m biased, but I think Russell is the best of the bunch," Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said. “Obviously, Peyton Manning puts up huge numbers in their offense [at Denver]. But for the way we play, Russell is the best for what we do.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
TMB/Icon SMIRussell Wilson played well under the pressure of the playoffs last season. Seattle is counting on him to do it again.
“He’s definitely smarter and picks [up] stuff faster than I ever would imagine possible. Unlike most young quarterbacks, he just doesn’t regress. He just keeps getting better. And he does it time and time again in the big situations.”

Wilson embraces the big stage, the times when the outcome is on the line and the games mean the most. He claims he never has been nervous before or during a game.

“You’re never nervous when you’re prepared,” Wilson said. “There’s going to be adversity, but you have to make big-time plays in the big-time games.”

Wilson did that last season in both playoff games. He brought the Seahawks back from a 14-0 deficit in Washington, completing 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, and he also rushed for 67 yards.

One week later, Seattle trailed Atlanta 27-7 entering the fourth quarter before Wilson rallied the team again.

He ran for one touchdown in the fourth and threw for another, ending the game with 385 yards passing, 2 touchdown passes, 1 rushing touchdown and 60 yards rushing. The Seahawks led 28-27 until Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds to play.

“We were so close, but I don’t think about it anymore,’’ Wilson said. “It showed our resilience, the ability to gut it out and come back. And having that experience is great, obviously.”

It was a stellar performance in a painful loss, but a day when many people took notice of a young quarterback on the rise.

Clutch, as Wilson likes to call it. Cornerback Richard Sherman, his All-Pro teammate, says it’s something you can’t teach.

“You either have it or you don’t,” Sherman said. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m going to work on being clutch.’ You’re either [clutch] in the moment or you’re not. Russell is, every time.”

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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