SEATTLE Even if he has a secret, wild side he’s great at hiding, none of Russell Wilson’s previous 26 birthdays could have been as eventful as this one.
Yes, his Sunday performance was a stirring example of why Seattle gave its franchise quarterback an $87.6 million contract extension this summer.
The Seahawks-Steelers game had seven lead changes. And Wilson had a career-high five touchdown passes, plus his regular-season-best 345 yards passing.
He received injections of three, full bags of intravenous fluids during the game to combat flulike symptoms. He’d awakened at 5:45 a.m., feeling like doing anything but saving of a season.
Ultimately, it took the kind of victory he’d never pulled off before with these Seahawks.
Wilson overcame all that, plus Pittsburgh’s slingin’ Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 456 yards, the second-most ever against Seattle.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks lost star tight end Jimmy Graham to a season-ending knee injury.
But Wilson’s three touchdown passes to Doug Baldwin — two in the final 8 minutes — plus two more scoring passes to Jermaine Kearse rallied the Seahawks four times past Pittsburgh in their 39-30 victory at literally shaking CenturyLink Field.
“It was phenomenal,” Baldwin said. “This is an unbelievable win for us.”
Wilson said it was the worst he’s felt playing in an NFL game in his four-year career. Yet he played his best.
What got him through?
“Just the passion of the game. And teammates,” Wilson said. “The fire that they all brought. … When you love the game, you do anything to find a way.
“I’m going to find a way.”
Kearse emerged from mothballs to double his season touchdown total with the two scoring receptions. Wilson completed 21 of 30 passes. And Seattle (6-5) tied Atlanta for the NFC’s final playoff spot.
Baldwin confirmed this was his first three-TD game “since Little League.” It came with him at less-than-full health, too. He’d spent the week rehabilitating a sprained ankle.
Baldwin’s final, clinching touchdown was all Big League. He punctuated a wondrous, 80-yard catch-and-run by breaking two tackles with old-school stiff arms. It came on third-and-10 with 2 minutes left, when a Steelers’ stop might have sent the Seahawks back under .500.
“That was the first time I did that since college,” Baldwin said of the stiff arms.
Baldwin wanted to give a “shout-out” to teammate Tyler Lockett. The rookie wide receiver sprinted ahead of him to pick off Pittsburgh’s Antwon Blake. That block ensured the clinching score.
And get this: Baldwin didn’t see Wilson’s early throw as he crossed the middle behind a sea of bodies and arms until, as he put it, “as late as you can possibly imagine.” He said it was the latest he’d seen a pass he’s caught in his NFL career. Wilson had to fire quickly to avoid more of Pittsburgh’s daylong pressure.
No drop. No miss. No potentially final rally by the Steelers (6-5). Instead, this became the first time since Wilson became their quarterback as a rookie in 2012 that the Seahawks won a game in which the opponent scored more than 24 points.
In a rarity, the offense bailed out its ballyhooed defense after the “Legion of Boom” went bust for large stretches of this wild game.
It was as seesawing and thrilling a game as Seattle’s hosted in years. The fans in the CenturyLink Field-record crowd of 69,055, which included a remarkable number of Steelers’ rooters twirling gold Terrible Towels, roared for each team as if this was a heavyweight title fight.
“It is kind of an unorthodox way to play and win … but that’s what we had to do today,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“Big-time, clutch plays.”
His team needed all of them.
Roethlisberger was 36 of 55, with one touchdown and two interceptions, before leaving to get tested for a possible concussion. That was following a blow to his head by Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett in the fourth quarter.
The flag on Bennett extended Pittsburgh’s drive on third down. But the drive stalled at the Seattle 3. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin chose to kick a 22-yard field goal with 3 minutes left, relying on his defense to make a stop and his offense to continue rolling past 500 yards to a winning field goal following a punt ... that never came.
Baldwin’s mammoth, 80-yard score versus man coverage ruined that plan.
Roethlisberger targeted Seattle All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman for the eighth time early in the fourth quarter. Early in the throw, Steelers No. 1 wide receiver Antonio Brown fell down while in close contact with Sherman; Sherman said afterward he never knew that Brown fell down.
Roethlisberger’s pass sailed far deep to where only Sherman was upright. The first interception for Sherman this season, and a return to the Steelers 39, set up Wilson’s third touchdown pass, his second to Kearse.
The two-point pass attempt to Kevin Smith was incomplete, and Seattle led 26-21 early in the final quarter.
But then Roethlisberger did what he’s best at: extending plays and rifling the ball deep. Markus Wheaton broke past debuting Seahawks defensive back Jeremy Lane at the end of a long-developing play. Roethlisberger’s howitzer-like pass got the Steelers a 69-yard touchdown and a 27-26 lead.
It didn’t last long. Wilson’s career day rallied Seattle again.
Wilson heard rare criticism from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell — “he’s got to give guys a chance” — following a 14-for-32 passing night in the loss to Arizona three games ago. That essentially ended Seattle’s chances for a third consecutive NFC West title.
Since then, Wilson has soared: 45 completions on 59 pass attempts for 605 yards and eight touchdowns, with no interceptions. That 147.9 passer rating is a career best over a two-game span.
While Wilson says nothing is different — “I ignore the noise,” the QB said again Sunday — Baldwin says a lot is.
“You can see his focus is sharper,” Baldwin said, adding that it’s not as if Wilson wasn’t focused before. “You could see in his eyes that he had that killer instinct: ‘I am going to go out there and do what I’ve got to do.’
“That’s Russell Wilson. Whenever his back is against the wall is when he plays his best. I wouldn’t count him out for anything.”
The Steelers rolled up 249 yards in the first half, 206 on Roethlisberger passes off of scrambles and extended plays. The Seahawks would have been down more than 18-14 at halftime if not for Pittsburgh getting too cute.
The Steelers had backup quarterback Landry Jones get out of field-goal-holder formation on fourth-and-2 and take a shotgun snap. Jones tried to throw back to the left to an eligible tackle.
But Lane, playing in his first game since he broke his arm and injured his knee in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, intercepted Jones’ plopped pass. Lane returned it 54 yards to the Pittsburgh 24 before he fell on his face because his rusty legs got tired.
That set up Wilson’s 16-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Baldwin down the slot. Seattle had a 7-3 lead after doing next to nothing early.
This remarkable game was on. And we mean on.
Suddenly, Seattle’s offense is picking up the defense. And the Seahawks are feeling the momentum they’ve been waiting three months to seize. Five games remain in the regular season, including this coming Sunday at NFC North-leading Minnesota (8-3).
“We definitely feel it’s happening,” Carroll said. “Everybody’s contributing.
“That is what happens when teams get going.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
THE REBOUND OF RUSSELL WILSON
COMPATT YDSTD/INT RATING RESULT
Nov. 15 vs Arizona14322401/167.2Loss
Nov. 22 vs San Fran.24292603/0138.6Win
Nov. 29 vs. Pittsburgh2130345*5^/0147.9Win
*= Regular-season career high
(158.3 is a perfect passer rating)