Russell Wilson Goes from Horrid to Hero as Seahawks Unite to Reach Super Bowl

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2015

Kirby Lee/USA Today

SEATTLE — A nightmare day for a quarterback, followed by two perfect throws. Two gorgeous throws to history. Two gorgeous throws to a Super Bowl.

At the end of it all, a sloppy, magnificent, brutally ugly, wonderfully exciting NFC Championship Game—won in overtime by Seattle, 28-22, over Green Bay—was chaos. In the end zone, a mass of Seahawks players celebrated, doing what they have always done during this run, which is—on the field at least—perform as a single organism.

CenturyLink Field bounced and shook wildly. So did social media, which was stunned and suddenly became absent of Wilson-bashing. Confetti fell. Hugs ensued. It was chaos.

Then, as everything unfolded, Wilson calmly took a knee. There were a small number of people around him, but it looked like, for a moment, he wanted to be alone. Then Wilson cried. The tears were of happiness and relief and all of the other emotions a game like this can bring out.

The crying continued as he did a postgame interview on the field. Later, Wilson took the NFC trophy, held it high in his right hand and ran around a portion of the stadium, reaching out to fans in the lower stands with his left. He was no longer crying. He was elated.

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How it reached the point where Wilson threw four interceptions, the Seahawks had five total turnovers and the Seahawks are still going to the Super Bowl is something that only Stephen Hawking's equations can explain.

Part of it, however, can be attributed to three simple factors: Marshawn Lynch and his crotch-grabbing brutality, a defense that wasn't stout but kept the Packers in check and Wilson. Yes, even Wilson, in all of his horrid-playing glory.

There might be a fourth factor, which is faith. Not necessarily a religious faith but a faith in the Seahawks way that says no matter how much they are down, no matter how much inner turmoil percolates or whom they trade away, this team can win.

Infighting, outfighting. Punched in the face, kicked in the leg, left down and bloodied and beaten, these Seahawks are never dead. They regenerate. Like zombies. Get back up and kick your ass.

"We just keep fighting," said safety Kam Chancellor. "We kept telling each other to believe."

In the Super Bowl, they will be almost impossible to beat, because this is a group that plays with both a planet-sized chip on its shoulder and a galaxy-sized heart muscle. This impossible win strengthened both of those things.

The Seahawks believe they are immortal. They are right until proven otherwise.

And, yes, about that chip. Doug Baldwin said after the game—he actually said this—no one respects the Seahawks. It's actually comical the way Seattle players play that disrespect card when so many do respect them. Even Wilson got into the act, saying people doubted they could win a second Super Bowl, despite many in the media picking them to repeat.

Receiver Jermaine Kearse, when he introduced Baldwin on the press-conference podium, called him, "My fellow pedestrian"—a reference to Hall of Famer Cris Carter calling the group average, which Carter did a year ago.

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Jermaine Kearse #15 (L) and Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks speak to the media after defeating the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washingto
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Then Baldwin, again, brought up how someone on some media outlet somewhere (he said "ESPN affiliate") called Seattle's receivers "aiight," meaning alright, meaning OK, meaning backhanded compliment. Then Baldwin said the Seahawks receivers will show, in the Super Bowl, "how aiight we are."

There was something from Baldwin about showing the critics their aiight asses in the Super Bowl, too. Or something like that. There are so many chips on their shoulder it's difficult to count them all.

The culprit who irked Baldwin on Sunday might have been Deion Sanders, that damn doubter, who said on NFL Network that some Packers defensive backs wouldn't be losing sleep over Seattle receivers. The NFL Network tweeted a statement of what Sanders said that irked Baldwin so much. He said Seattle's receivers are "alright. I like what they bring to the table, I really do. I love their resilience, I love their attitude that they have, but they're alright. They're alright receivers. I didn't lie. I mean the truth hurts sometimes but it is what it is."

That's a pretty fair statement, actually.

Even before his press conference, Baldwin chastised reporters as he walked into the locker room, fired up, almost screaming. Think about that. He just earned a trip to the Super Bowl and was more concerned about lecturing reporters for this mythical doubt the media possessed.

Baldwin was all kinds of interesting on this day. The Seahawks' radio affiliate interviewed Baldwin after the game. When the reporter asked Baldwin what was Wilson's message before that final drive, Baldwin said: "He didn't have a message. He didn't have a f-----g message."

These Seahawks live off that stuff. It's their source of fuel.

The Seattle locker room was understandably ecstatic. There was joy, but there was also a head-nodding understanding of what had just happened. The Seahawks won, but they also know just how easily they could have lost. Especially since this Packers team, unlike in the season opener when they were obliterated by Seattle, didn't play scared. At least, for the early part of the game.

Packers Let Up

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on from the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Ph
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Most of the time, what happens in pregame warm-ups has no actual bearing on the contest. Thinking so is usually a fool's errand. Yet there was something strange about Rodgers. He just looked…pissed off. More than I've seen him look pissed off. Like he was mad over the Packers being such huge underdogs.

Rodgers was good, but that Packers defense was better. It confused Wilson with a combination of shadowing Wilson (with Clay Matthews) and throwing different secondary schemes at him. The Seahawks offensive line was also absolutely dominated.

The Packers built a healthy lead because of aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Then, mysteriously, coach Mike McCarthy began to play it safe. The Packers went into an offensive shell at one point in the second quarter, playing it safe enough to allow the Seahawks to hang around. It should have easily been 25 or even 30 to 0 at halftime. Instead, it was just 16-0.

Rodgers had some particularly strong postgame comments, his pregame irritation exacerbated by a tough loss.

"When you go back and think about it, at times, we weren't playing as aggressive as we usually are," he said.

"We were the better team today and we played well enough to win," he added. "We can't blame anyone but ourselves."

Lynch and Wilson Show Up

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks runs the ball in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the 2015 NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washingto
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Two critical things occurred as the game progressed. Lynch, who was kept under control for much of the first half, started to gash the Packers. (He would finish with 157 yards on 25 attempts and a score.) Then, Wilson started to heat up.

There are two ways to look at Wilson, and how you see what happened might depend on preconceived notions. If you believe Wilson is average and a game manager and he doesn't win, but other components of the franchise do, you will see Wilson's 44.3 passer rating and four picks as validation.

If you truly understand the game and see beyond the numbers, you will see why Wilson is so good: because he's stubbornly good. 

No single entity on the Seahawks symbolized the team's ups and downs in this game like Wilson. For much of the contest, Russell Wilson looked like Russell Tebow. The ball fluttered about inaccurately. It sailed high. It careened off the ground. There is no other way to say this but Wilson was awful.

Then Wilson, like the Seahawks, rose from the dead. After he ran for a one-yard score to make it 19-14 Packers with 2:09 left, and after Lynch scored from 24 yards out, Wilson converted an athletic, crazy throw on the 2-point conversion to give Seattle a 22-19 lead less than a minute later.

Then came the first of two perfect throws in overtime. On 3rd-and-7 at the Seattle 30, Wilson dropped a perfect 35-yard bomb into the persecuted Baldwin's arms.

Wilson followed that up with the touchdown throw to the persecuted Kearse. Before the play even happened—before the drive even began, when overtime started—Wilson told Kearse that Kearse was going to make the game-winning catch.

What you will hear in the coming days is what you often hear with Wilson. The defense won the game, not him. Or Lynch won it. Or Pete Carroll won it. Or the fans won it (even though a large contingent of them left the game early). Or 100 other people won the game besides Wilson. Or the Packers lost it. Or the fake field goal won it. Or the onside kick did.

In this case, in this rare case, some of that is accurate. Wilson was terrible for much of the game, and the defense saved him, but then he did what champions do—what the Seahawks do: He made the plays. Wilson went 6-of-7 to lead the Seahawks to two touchdowns in less than a minute late in the fourth period.

A brutal day, followed by two perfect throws. Two gorgeous throws to history. Two gorgeous throws to a Super Bowl.

And back to the Super Bowl.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.