Making Russell Wilson look like a rookie
September, 9, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireRussell Wilson marched the Seahawks to the doorstep of the Cardinals end zone at the end of the game, but came up short of winning it.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Seattle Seahawks' euphoria over Russell Wilson, so urgent that it required relegating $19.5 million free agent Matt Flynn to the bench in Week 1, didn't reveal itself in the game plan Sunday.
That was odd.
So was this: Kevin Kolb, coming off the bench for the injured John Skelton, leading the game-winning drive for the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth quarter of a 20-16 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"He's a gunslinger and he's always been like that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the winning quarterback. "It was a great moment for Kevin to jump up and he really answered the call."
Who knows, we might look back on this day as the rebirth for Kolb. His 6-yard scoring pass to Andre Roberts with 4:59 remaining lifted the Cardinals into the lead. Kolb, unburdened by starting expectations while coming off the bench, wasn't the story heading into this rematch of the 2011 regular-season finale.
Wilson had won the leading role for this play amid expectations that Seattle would feature him prominently in the script. Anyone watching Washington's Robert Griffin III hang a 40-spot on New Orleans earlier Sunday had to wonder if Wilson might be the next rookie unleashed. The Seahawks had moved past fears that Wilson's 5-foot-10 5/8 stature would limit him. Now, they would finally get to see him play when it mattered.
"He is so prepared, he doesn't seem like a first-year player," Carroll had said upon naming Wilson his starter. "He seems like he's been around. He gets it, he understands and he is a tremendous leader in that way. He doesn't do anything but the right thing in all of his work and his preparation and his competitiveness has been demonstrated again."
Wilson did lead the Seahawks to the brink of the winning touchdown in the final seconds. He showed poise in moving Seattle downfield over 18 plays to the Arizona 4-yard line in the final five minutes.
"It's like he's been there already," Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington said of Wilson's poise. "He played well and I think he's going to be a great quarterback in this league."
Had Doug Baldwin been able to handle an end-zone pass Wilson threw with perhaps a little too much zip, we'd be talking about Wilson giving the Seahawks the fourth-quarter moxie that was so lacking for the team last season -- the kind Arizona has shown so regularly with Skelton and, at least for a day, with Kolb as well.
"The margin is just so slight," Carroll said.
Seattle had little choice but to open up the offense after Kolb's touchdown pass had given Arizona its four-point lead. For most of the day, Wilson got the rookie game plan. For most of the day, the Seahawks might as well have had Tarvaris Jackson at the controls (Jackson, since traded to Buffalo, finished 2011 with zero touchdowns, six interceptions and nine sacks in the final two minutes of halves).
Wilson showed he could handle the Cardinals' pressure by connecting with Sidney Rice early from an empty set, but too frequently the Seahawks played as though protecting a rookie in his first start. Where the staff had raised the hurdle each time Wilson cleared one during preseason, they appeared reluctant to do so in this game.
What was with all the sideways and even backward passes? The Cardinals scooped up one of them for a critical turnover in Seahawks territory.
Seattle called runs on nine of its first 12 second-down plays, appearing content to play a field-position game between teams armed with strong defenses.
Nothing says tentative quite like a backward pass or three.
Of course, the decision to name Wilson the starter as a rookie third-round draft choice was about more than one game. This was the first step in a process. But if the Seahawks thought Wilson gave them the best chance to win right now, which seemed to be the case, why not show it? They surely would have given Flynn more of the playbook.
One reason: Arizona's defense wasn't having it.
The Cardinals held the Seahawks to 3.6 yards per offensive play, Seattle's lowest average in a game since managing only 2.7 with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback against Cleveland last season. The Cardinals came after Wilson from all angles, at times making the quarterback appear tentative as he held onto the ball.
"Maybe a few of my reads, just go through them a little bit quicker," Wilson said. "Just trusting what I see and just going with it sometimes. I have to watch the film, obviously."
Wilson and the Seahawks might as well rewatch Seattle's 23-20 overtime loss to Arizona in this very building during Week 17 last season. There weren't many differences.
Seattle finished the rematch with one additional first down, 115 fewer yards, eight additional seconds of possession time, two additional third-down conversions, seven fewer points in the fourth quarter and the same result.
"I played all right," Wilson said. "I'm definitely focused and excited to move on to the next game, though. That's the way I've always been, win or lose."
Wilson completed 18 of 34 passes for 153 yards, one touchdown and a meaningless interception on a desperation throw before halftime. He took three sacks and picked up 20 yards on eight rushes, with a long gain of 5 yards.
"I thought Russell battled," Carroll said. "It was hard in the first half because they pressured a lot and made it tough on us. But he hung in there and he came back."
The Seahawks head into their Week 2 home game against Dallas facing a dilemma. They lost left tackle Russell Okung to a knee injury of unknown severity. Coaches will naturally want to pull back further if Okung isn't around to keep DeMarcus Ware out of the Seahawks' backfield. That might be the smart route to take, too.
It just won't be very exciting.