After a late-game scare, thanks in large part to All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the Seattle Seahawks are heading to their first NFC Championship Game since the 2005 season.
The Seahawks' 23-15 win over the Saints on Saturday was a hard-fought battle all the way until the end. Despite leading for the entirety of the game, there were particular points throughout when Seattle showed signs of weakness.
Darrell Bevell’s offense struggled on third down (5-of-14), Dan Quinn’s defense struggled against the run and quarterback Russell Wilson had one of his more forgettable games in recent memory.
Yet, you have to give credit where credit is due. Running back Marshawn Lynch punished the Saints defense for 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner single-handedly shut down New Orleans’ screen game and safety Earl Thomas patrolled the back end of Seattle’s defense to perfection.
Everything that could have gone right for the Seahawks, during crucial moments of the game, did.
At the beginning of the second quarter, defensive end Michael Bennett recovered running back Mark Ingram’s fumble, and Lynch scored two plays later on a 15-yard run up the middle. Then, on the final play of the game, wide receiver Marques Colston opted to throw an illegal forward pass instead of stepping out of bounds.
Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and sometimes it doesn’t. Clearly, the ball bounced Seattle’s way on a wet and rainy day in the Pacific Northwest. However, Wilson and the wide receiving corps have to step up now that everything is set for a Seahawks Super Bowl run.
Over the course of the last five contests (playoffs included), the second-year signal-caller has struggled to turn in the dynamic outings we are accustomed to. Since the San Francisco 49ers game, Week 14, he has completed 56.5 percent of his passes, thrown four touchdowns and hurled three interceptions.
Furthermore, he’s only averaging 157.6 yards passing, 6.55 yards per pass attempt and 19.8 yards on the ground. It’s evident that his play has leveled off after a red-hot start to the season. Prior to Seattle’s road contest in San Francisco, Wilson averaged 222.6 yards per game through the air, 8.79 yards per pass attempt and 1.8 touchdowns.
Even the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) have noticed a drop-off in Wilson’s production. Through the first 12 games of the season, PFF awarded the Pro Bowl quarterback with nine positive performances and two negative performances. Since then, he has amassed two positive performances and two negative performances. A third negative performance could be coming after Saturday’s showing.
Nevertheless, Seahawks fans shouldn’t panic. Wilson is still a top-five quarterback no matter which way you spin it. Additionally, he has the ability to make big plays at a moment’s notice and take over a game if Seattle needs him to.
In 35 career starts (playoffs included), Wilson has amassed seven fourth-quarter comebacks and nine game-winning drives, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Since 2012, that’s the second-best mark in the league behind Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, via Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders.
With numbers like that, it’s hard for the Seahawks to not like their odds with Wilson under center. Moreover, let’s not forget the fact that the ‘Hawks possess the league’s best defense and have one more game at CenturyLink Field.
As we all know, Seattle dominates the opposition in front of its home crowd. The Seahawks have lost one measly game at home in two years' time and are undoubtedly built to play in adverse weather conditions.
This, in turn, means they are the clear favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Yes, the 49ers and Carolina Panthers both field formidable squads, but that doesn’t mean either team has what it takes offensively to play well enough in the NFC Championship Game.
The 49ers are 0-2 versus Wilson at the CLink, while the Panthers are 0-2 against the Seahawks in Carolina. If Carolina can’t beat Seattle at home, how can it expect to beat Seattle in Seattle? Without a doubt, heading into next week’s game, things are starting to favor the Seahawks.
Obviously, playoff games are a whole different animal in comparison to regular-season games, yet that doesn’t change how the Seahawks match up with the two respective teams.
Sure, wide receiver Michael Crabtree may be back in the mix for the 49ers, and quarterback Cam Newton is playing his best football of the season for the Panthers, but the Seahawks have the secondary and pass rush to make both players obsolete.
With one meaningful game left to play, ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII, Wilson has the opportunity to settle in and get red-hot before he embarks on the biggest game of his career.