RENTON What makes Russell Wilson so brilliantly poised when the games get so tense?
Why this season, despite his Seahawks having no running game to support him and a leaky offensive line that’s had pass rushers in on him, does Wilson have 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes? That’s tied for the most in NFL history in a regular season. And Seattle (8-4) has four more to play in this one.
What has made him the winningest quarterback over the first six seasons of a career in NFL history?
He says it’s not his throwing arm. Nor his scrambling legs.
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It’s all in his mind.
Consider this: Wilson has spent a considerable chunk of his preparation for Sunday’s game at AFC South-leading Jacksonville (8-4) studying images of Jacksonville’s home field he’s been Googling all week.
"I haven’t been to Jacksonville. I haven’t played there before," Seattle’s one-of-a-kind franchise quarterback said before practice Thursday, while national momentum continued building for his candidacy to become the NFL’s most valuable player for this season.
"This may sound weird," Wilson said, chuckling, "but I look up pictures of the stadium, try to visualize what things look like, where the ‘shot clock’ (play clock) is, all those things. Just so I can be comfortable before I get there.
"That’s just kind of something that I do, on my own."
It’s also part of what Wilson always--like the sun coming up--refers to as his quest for “a limitless mind,” part of his mantra that “separation is in the preparation.”
To him, every NFL player is extraordinarily gifted with physical skills. So how does he see the way to rising above a league full of great athletes, "to be the best in the world" at what he does, as Wilson last week he seeks to be?
To Wilson, it’s the game that goes in inside the mind.
And he doesn’t play that game by himself.
“Yeah, I think Trevor Moawad is amazing,” Wilson said. “To work with him, to be able to discuss situations and past experiences and everything, and then to go through visualization, that’s a big part of it for me. Visualizing being successful.
“He’s one of the best in the world to ever do it, in terms of a mental coach. He works with some of the best in the world. He’s been a friend for a very, very long time.”
Moawad wants to be known as a mental-conditioning expert and cognitive-strength developer, not a sports psychologist. He focuses on reducing or eliminating negative thoughts to pave visualization of success. He owns his own firm plus is something of a hired ace for sports teams and players across the country.
He has worked with the Navy SEALS, one of the world’s finest elite, specialized military forces. That gives Wilson and his Seahawks general manager a common interest. Last year John Schneider was in San Diego becoming the first person in professional sports to attend an Echelon Front “muster,” a deep dive led by former Navy SEALs on how the elite unit trains, thinks and leads in combat.
Wilson’s Navy SEAL-like mental training comes from Moawad.
In late October the QB’s cognitive guru was in the same arena in Jacksonville that Wilson’s been visualizing through those pictures this week, EverBank Stadium. He accompanied the Georgia Bulldogs there for their win over Florida. Moawad is Georgia’s mental conditioning coach.
How’s that arrangement working out for the Bulldogs? They just won the Southeastern Conference championship for the first time in 12 years. They are now in the College Football Playoff for the national championship.
Wilson and Moawad are so close, the quarterback talks with his mental coach each game week.
“I’m actually going to see him again today,” Wilson said before Thursday’s practice. “He see him probably every week and talk to him all the time. He’s a close personal friend.”
Asked what he talks about with Moawad, the newly remarried Wilson, who with his wife Ciara recently had a baby, said “everything.
There’s some video components to it, sometimes. But really it’s just trying to put myself in the situations, and really, also, without giving away too much detail, how do you have a dangerous mind? How do you think outside the box? How do you function amidst chaos?”
Wilson has had a ton of chaos around him during games this season.
He’s Seattle’s leading rusher, almost all through scrambles away from pass rushers. Defenders have often plowed through an offensive line that is on its fifth iteration in 11 games. Wilson’s gained 85.7 percent of the Seahawks’ yards, the most in the league by one player for a team. That’s while getting next to zero support from a flat-lined running game. He’s been the truest sense of most valuable to his team. The Seahawks currently hold an NFC playoff spot, the fifth seed, and are one game out of the NFC West lead with the first-place Los Angeles Rams (whom the Seahawks have beaten) coming to Seattle next week.
The visualization is working as well or better than it ever has for the two-time Super Bowl quarterback.
Offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell marveled this week at the 28-year-old Wilson’s supernatural poise, his ability to keep a clear mind when everyone else’s is affected--by pass rushers about to drill him into the turf, by game situations, crowd noise, the longest of odds, whatever. Bevell sees that poise as the primary reason Wilson has 23 fourth-quarter or overtime comeback wins in 103 games. That’s the second most in the league behind Detroit’s Matthew Stafford--though unlike Stafford four of Wilson’s late comebacks have been in the playoffs. That includes two of the best comebacks in Seahawks’ history—the two in consecutive NFC championships against San Francisco and Green Bay that got Seattle into Super Bowls 48 and 49 at the end of the 2013 and ‘14 seasons.
Wilson’s mental serenity showed up on his escape from four pass rushers and spin back to find Paul Richardson inside the goal line for the winning touchdown pass in week two against San Francisco. It showed up 6 yards downfield last weekend against Philadelphia on his "Galilean Transformation" lateral to Mike Davis. His trick created 17 more yards for Davis on a scoring drive that helped put away the favored Eagles.
Wilson says he’s already seen them happen, before they do.
It’s all in his mind.
"It’s huge. I think the mind is everything, really," Wilson said. "If you really think about it, at this level a lot of people are very skills, to do a lot of different things, to throw the ball, to make catches, to run and tackle and do all that stuff. But the reality is, how can people be consistent, over and over and over and over again? Play in and play out. Game in and game out. Year in and year out.
"That’s the obsession that I love to try to study and learn, and to continue to try to put myself in as much as I can. To continue to try to have a limitless mind."
DeShawn Shead finished his second practice in a row since reconstructive knee surgery in January.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard has used Shead all over the secondary in his previous five Seahawks seasons, including as the starting right cornerback last season. Rookie Shaquill Griffin has that job now. If Shead comes back off the physically-unable-to-perform list within the next three weeks, as he must by rule to play this season, where will he play?
"Defensive back," Richard said. "wherever we need him. Right now, it’s still too soon to tell, and we’re just happy to have him back and practicing."
EXTRA POINT: Ethan Pocic returned to being a full practice participant, one day after the rookie second-round pick missed practice with a newly listed ankle injury. His work Thursday suggests Pocic will start again at right guard Sunday.