Bobby Wagner was doing what the main linebacker on the league’s top defense is supposed to do days before a huge game: He was studying film with his position coach.
That’s why he didn’t answer his phone.
Coach Pete Carroll was calling and Wagner, who had just seen Carroll for two hours at practice, figured that meant two things: bad and worse.
How often does the coach call players he sees all the time?
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“Not too often,” Wagner said Wednesday before the Seattle Seahawks’ final practice before having Christmas Day off. “So when you get a phone call from him, it means something.”
This meant the world to Wagner.
“Coach Carroll called me and he left a voicemail, so I immediately thought I was in trouble,” Wagner said. “I thought something happened. I didn’t know what to expect, so as I’m walking to his office I’m trying to think of all the things that I might’ve done to get him to call me for something.
“And so I walked into his office and he told me that I made the Pro Bowl.”
For the first time.
The 2012 third-round pick from not-exactly-Broadway Utah State got his star status confirmed by Tuesday night’s announcement. The invaluable centerpiece to the NFL’s top defense got the recognition for which teammate Richard Sherman has been lobbying for months: He made the roster for next month’s league all-star game.
Wagner joins defensive co-stars Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor plus 1,000-yard rusher and 15-touchdown man Marshawn Lynch as the five Seahawks selected.
Yet Wagner wasn’t checking his phone every minute trying to find out.
“I knew that it was going to be announced,” he said, “but I kind of just wasn’t thinking about it because I didn’t want to get my hopes high and then not be able to get it and be (ticked) — and then have to take it out on the world.”
So apparently the St. Louis Rams (6-9) can sigh in relief that Wagner won’t have the destructive edge Sunday he’s had while leading Seattle (11-4) to its five-game winning streak.
Now minted a Pro Bowl linebacker, Wagner is going to suddenly relax and relent, even though a win over the Rams would give the Seahawks the NFC West title and home-field advantage as the conference’s top seed in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“I mean, I still can find the extra aggression somewhere,” he said with a grin, “so I’ll be fine.”
In the five games since Wagner has returned from a broken bone in a foot tendon and torn foot ligament, Seattle is 5-0, allowing just 6.6 points and 193.6 yards per game in those wins.
It’s the most dominant stretch of defense in team history.
It’s why quarterback Russell Wilson says this unit Wagner leads is better than the one that smashed the Denver Broncos 43-8 in February to win Seattle’s first Super Bowl.
“They are better than they were last year, in my opinion,” Wilson said. “I think our defense is playing lights-out football.
“We’re older. We are more experienced on offense and defense. I think we have a more focused team, if that’s even possible.
“I believe that we have the right mentality back in terms of, we don’t believe that we can be stopped. And that’s just because of the way we practice, the way that we work every day, the way we study, and ultimately when it comes down to crunch time, we believe we’re going to make the plays.”
Nobody’s been making more plays more consistently during Seattle’s season-changing winning streak than Wagner. He has been decisive.
When he got the painful foot injury before halftime Oct. 12 against the Dallas Cowboys, an injury that had him in a walking boot for weeks after, he played the second half basically on one leg. The Seahawks allowed 401 yards and lost at home 30-21.
With Wagner out injured the next five weeks, usual outside linebacker K.J. Wright and undrafted rookie Brock Coyle rotated at middle linebacker.
The Rams exploited the middle of the field for the game-winning touchdown to a tight end in their 28-26 win. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr completed 24 of 41 passes and the then-winless Oakland Raiders rallied from 24-3 down before losing 30-24.
Eli Manning and the New York Giants threw for 270 yards with Wagner out, though the Seahawks rallied from being down at halftime to win.
Then came the November nadir in Kansas City. The Chiefs went right up the middle where Wagner wasn’t to win 24-20.
When he returned, the Seahawks took off.
Against the Arizona Cardinals last month at CenturyLink Field, he and the thumping Chancellor — healthier after sitting out wins over the Raiders and Giants to rest his aching legs and hip — crunched the Cardinals’ attempt to establish a running game early.
Wagner was then all over the field in coverage and applying pressure as backup quarterback Drew Stanton looked anemic in Seattle’s 19-3 win.
Wagner was supposed to be on a limited snap count that day, to ease him back in from more than a month out. He played every snap.
Thanksgiving night at San Francisco he had 10 tackles, two for losses, as the Seahawks held the 49ers to just 164 yards in another 19-3 win.
The next week in Philadelphia, Wagner flashed speed Eagles 1,000-yard running back LeSean McCoy hadn’t seen all season; Wagner often ran faster than McCoy to his hole and was waiting for him. Seattle beat previously 9-3 Philadelphia, 24-14.
Wagner had 10 more tackles, a sack and knocked away passes deep downfield in Seattle’s 17-7 home win in the rematch with the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 14. And last weekend at Arizona, his nine tackles again wiped out the Cardinals’ attempts to run, leaving third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley overwhelmed in the Seahawks’ stunning 35-6 rout of what used to the be NFC’s top team.
A win Sunday over St. Louis and Seattle will be that top team. Again.
Put it this way: The Seahawks are 3-3 when Wagner’s been hurt. They are 8-1 with him fully healthy, the lone loss when they melted into a 120-degree field at San Diego in September (he had another 10 tackles that day, by the way).
“I didn’t feel like I missed a beat when I came back. I felt like I picked up where I left off before I got hurt,” Wagner said. “When I was on the field, I made a difference.
“I wanted to come back and I wanted to make an impact. I want my presence to be felt. But I think just everybody just kind of getting healthy at the same time and everybody playing well has kind of helped us get on this track.”
The following players did not practice during the indoor workout: Lynch (back, usual Wednesday), DE Demarcus Dobbs (ankle), WR Jermaine Kearse (hamstring), TE Cooper Helfet (ribs), WR Chris Matthews (hamstring), and CB Tharold Simon (shoulder). Carroll said on Tuesday that Helfet has a chance to play Sunday, Kearse is a long shot and Simon is going to try. … C Max Unger (high ankle sprain) practiced on a limited basis. It’s iffy for him to play for the first time in six games this weekend. If he doesn’t, Carroll hasn’t committed to either Patrick Lewis for the second straight week or Lemuel Jeanpierre playing center against the Rams.