The last time the Seahawks played Carolina, Doug Baldwin walked into the huddle for the game’s first play and confronted Russell Wilson.
Did the leading wide receiver tell his quarterback what route he wanted to run? How open he was going to be all day?
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“Hey, what’s going on with that hair? You goin’ to grow it out this year, or what?” Baldwin asked Wilson, right there around the 10-yard line amid 74,000 fans yelling inside Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on Oct. 26.
See, last season Wilson went blown-out, 1970s-Afro late in the year. He reasoned that as long as the Seahawks were winnin’ he wasn’t cuttin.’
They won the Super Bowl.
On Wednesday Wilson began his weekly press conference with a neon green team cap pulled backward onto his head, as I recorded above. About midway through he pulled it off. Out puffed a mushrooming
[caption id="attachment_28864" align="alignright" width="480"] Russell Wilson's hair was mushrooming last month before he and the Seahawks won at Arizona. It's in postseason form now. Is he? (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo).[/caption]
mass of dark, curled hair.
“It’s out now,” Wilson said. “Same as last year.”
The Seahawks (12-4) sure hope so, beginning Saturday in the NFC divisional playoffs against Carolina (8-8-1) at CenturyLink Field.
Wilson went 3-0 with his lengthy locks last postseason. He completed 63.2 percent of his passes with three touchdowns as Seattle won two home playoff games then the Super Bowl over Denver. Coincidentally, he said by that February title game his hair was the longest it’s been in his 26 years on Earth.
“I did it in high school my junior year and we won the state championship -- that was our best year,” Wilson said.
That was in the fall and winter of 2005 at Collegiate High in Richmond, Virginia. Wilson was all-state, all-region, all-everything while throwing for 3,287 yards and 40 touchdowns and running for 634 yards and 15 more scores that season.
That was the start of the long-haired version of Wilson being the one thing the very best – indeed the legendary – quarterbacks are this time of year.
“Their quarterback should seriously be considered for league MVP,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday. “All he’s done is win.”
Wilson enters these playoffs 16-3 in the NFL’s crucial months of December, January and February. That includes 4-0 this season. His 40 combined victories in the regular season and playoffs are the most in league history for a quarterback in his first three seasons.
“I attribute it to great preparation, first of all,” Wilson said Wednesday. “As I always say, the separation is the preparation. … And also the guys around me making big-time plays.
“Ultimately it comes down to just trying to be clutch when the game’s on the line. When there’s two minutes left in the game, I want the ball in my hands.
“It’s one of those things where I believe in myself. And I believe in the teammates around me.”
Wilson said the Seahawks’ recent experience of winning the sport’s biggest games provides them with a tangible advantage on the field: belief. Previously endangered Seattle steamrolled to six wins in a row to end the regular season and seize the NFC’s top playoff seed for the second straight January.
“I definitely think there’s a correlation to the success of our offense and the success we’ve been able to (have) the last three years when the game is on the line,” Wilson said. “It’s that conscious confidence, believing in what you are going to do and also just being really engaged when those moments happen. That’s what you prepare for. That’s what you waited for when you were a little kid.
“You get in those situations, you use those experiences … and you have a clear mind. And go for it.”
Saturday, Wilson will be opposite another quarterback who goes for it, sometimes at the risk of body and ball.
Carolina’s Cam Newton is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. One of the Seahawks who will be chasing him most on Saturday, linebacker Bruce Irvin, says the Panthers’ quarterback has an upper body bigger than his.
Newton, like Wilson, often runs on bootlegs and option keeps. Unlike Wilson, Newton does so more like a fullback: head and shoulders down, pointing forward through defenders rather than zooming or looping around them.
The effects are as different as the style.
Newton missed two games to injury this regular season while rushing 105 times for 539 yards. Both were lows for his four-season career. He’s playing with two fractures in his lower back from a two-car accident early last month in which his truck landed on its side and sustained a flattened roof.
Wednesday, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, from Lacey’s Timberline High School, called Newton’s surviving the wreck and playing on “actually incredible.”
Last weekend Newton was dragging a sore ankle through Carolina’s 27-16 win over Arizona in the wild card round.
Wilson, meanwhile, has remained as unscathed as his ballooning hair. He has yet to miss apractice — let alone a game — in his three NFL seasons since he led Wisconsin to the 2012 Rose Bowl.
His signature, improvisational scrambles and spins past befuddled defenders have produced career highs this season of 849 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the ground. He also has endured 42 sacks, and escaped from at least twice as many more behind Seattle’s offensive line that has had trouble consistently protecting him for two seasons.
Rivera marveled that through all his film study while facing the Seahawks for what will be the fourth time in three seasons he has never seen Wilson take a big hit while running.
Wilson takes pride in his self-preservation and judgment on when to run, when to slide and when to throw.
Rivera said that is different from Newton.
“Russell has this innate ability to pull back at the last second and throw the ball,” Rivera said, “where our guy, when he commits he’s going to run.”
Not surprisingly, the notoriously calculated Wilson said it’s all by his own design.
“I try to be selective,” he said of running. “The game dictates the situation. … Is it third down and 3? Can you get there? If not, do everything you can. I try to keep my eyes downfield the whole time. I’m not trying to run the football, you know, ever. I try to make something happen.
“That’s a great way to salvage the play, too. … I’ve always tried to do a great job with that. I try to make sure I get down and slide; I think (my) baseball (experience) helps a little bit. I’m able to kind of get away from people and get down. That’s always a good thing.”
Yes, life is a great thing for Seattle’s beloved No. 3. The only thing bigger than his hair right now: his success and his popularity.
And not just for his football. It’s well-known around town that he spends one day each week visiting inpatients at Seattle Children’s hospital. The staff there now wears Seahawks gear and Wilson jerseys on Tuesdays in eager anticipation of his arrival.
“A lot of those kids look up to me for whatever reason,” Wilson said. “And I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got the best job in the world. I get to play quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. And I just turned 26!’
“I can’t complain. I’m grateful.”
Here is all of what the quarterback said today:
QB Russell Wilson
January 7, 2015
(On the touchdown pass to Luke Willson vs. Carolina earlier in the year and his relationship with him) Well in terms of Luke Willson, his touchdown last game, game-winning touchdown -- he did a great job of getting up the seam and getting vertical and making a great catch in tough coverage. He was able to make a great catch and get into the end zone. Those are the types of plays you’re going to have to make against a very good defense. They’re very, very talented. They’re coached extremely well. So, we’re going to have to play great football. In terms of Luke [Willson] and his growth, I mean, he’s been unbelievable for us this year. He’s a difference-maker for us when he’s in the game, so hopefully we can get the ball to him.
(On what it is about Carolina’s defense that gives them trouble the last few years) Well, in terms of defense, they have a great front seven. Their front seven is very active and their linebackers are as good as it gets. I’ve got a lot of respect for Luke Kuechly, [Thomas] Davis as well, knowing those guys and playing against them they really fly around and I have a good relationship with Luke [Kuechly] so I know how much of a competitor he is and he leads those guys in the right way.
(On if he knows him from the draft process or other) Yeah I know him from when I played in the ACC he played at Boston College so I got to play a lot of football against him and also the draft process. I trained at IMG and we were together, training every day, going against each other, running against each other, just doing the drills together. Great player and good friend.
(On the drive in Carolina having lost two in a row and what that drive meant for the season) You know, you go through the journey of the season and you’re going to have some great plays and you’re going to have some plays that you wish you had back and you wish you hadn’t made and you respect the process of it all. I think our growth as a team and the plays that we’ve had to make when the game’s on the line, when our season’s on the line, we’ve always come up with those. We’ve always continued to find ways and be clutch in those moments and that’s what you want. That’s what championship style teams do, they make clutch plays when they have to and we’ve been able to do that throughout the season and now it’s time to make those plays again. They’re definitely going to come up again, obviously playing in the playoffs.
(On how important it is to get Max Unger back this week) Yeah it will be big to get Max Unger back. He’s a Pro Bowl center. He’s as good as it gets, in my opinion, the best in the league. So much confidence in his ability to make the right calls and be in the right spot, just do a great job against a very good defensive line. He’s very intelligent and very physical and he just knows how to play the game the right way.
(On how similar and different he is from Cam Newton) In terms of comparing Cam [Newton] and I, you know, he’s--I don’t know, what--seven inches taller than me… You know, he’s probably I don’t know, 260. He’s a big guy out there and he’s got great ability to throw the ball down the field, doing a lot of good things and I’ve got a lot of respect for his game. I don’t normally ever compare my game to anybody I just think that he’s a competitor and that’s what I really respect about him. I love watching him play. Hopefully he plays good, but not too good. He’s a very, very talented player and a good guy.
(On if he thinks his receiving corps is still underrated on a national perspective) In terms of our receiving corps, I think people underrate them. You think about Doug Baldwin and all the plays he’s made over the career that he’s had here - the spectacular plays. Go back to last season, the clutch plays he’s made. You go to this year and all the clutch plays he’s made and his quick ability to make people miss and be great on third down and be great in the red zone and do all the things you can do. Jermaine Kearse, his ability to attack the football in the air and be physical. You think about the Super Bowl and him running into the end zone and bouncing off of guys. Those are the types of plays that they can make on regular basis and I believe in those guys so much. Yeah they may not have the same numbers as everybody else but I know our style of game is a style of play that wins a lot of football games. We mix it up, we’re 50/50, we’re physical with the football running the ball, and the passing game we’re very explosive. I think those guys have done a tremendous job for us stepping up every game and every week. You got the young guys too, you got Paul Richardson, you got Kevin Norwood, you got some other guys stepping in too. Bryan Walters doing some punt returning and all the things that these guys can do is so versatile. Ricardo Lockette’s a guy that’s huge on special teams for us. He’s a guy that’s blazing fast. Like I said at the beginning of the year, I believe that we have arguably one of the fastest, if not the fastest wide receiving crew in the National Football League and you see it on Sundays. So, we’re going to have to make big time plays obviously and I trust those guys more than anybody else and I know that they’re going to make the plays for me.
(On what he learned playing QB in the NFL that he didn’t know prior to the NFL) I think you know most of the things. You don’t get here if you don’t know most of the things. But I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned and continued to try to progress on is getting the ball out on time, just understanding protections and understanding what we’re trying to do. That’s the biggest thing for us. We’ve done a really good job of that this season I feel like and we’ve battled with guys having to step up and step into the game. You think about we’ve had four different centers. Some guys had to step in and that’s the great thing about our team. There’s no fear. Guys have to step up and play and they do a great job when they play. At the end of the day it comes down to being clutch and making the plays and just having that confidence and having that belief that it’s going to happen every time and believing in that.
(On the key to making good decisions, protecting the football, keeping interceptions down, and how much Pete Carroll has reinforced that) Well you know, we always want to be great in terms of protecting the football and making the right decisions and facilitating the ball to the right guy at the right time like I always say. In terms of making good decisions and keeping interceptions down, I’ve always prided myself in that. You don’t want to give them the ball and just making key decisions –anticipating things too. Understanding what the defense is and what they’re trying to do and also if it’s not there, throw it away. I throw the ball away a good amount if it’s not there. That’s just trust in my guys and trust in the system.
(On doing things that are necessary to make a play work vs. putting yourself at danger) In terms of being a risk-taker, essentially is what you’re asking, in terms of running the football, I try to be selective. I think that the game dictates the situation. Is it fourth down and seven, is it fourth and three, is it third down and three, can you get there, if not, do everything you can. I try to keep my eyes down the field the whole time. I’m not trying to run the football, ever. For me, it’s one of those things where I try to make something happen. If it’s not there, just make a positive play out of it. That’s a great way to salvage the play too. If it’s third and seven and it’s the second quarter, you still got a lot more to do. A lot more game left and you want to be smart with those plays. I’ve always tried to do a good job of that and try to make sure I get down and slide. I think baseball helps a little bit. I’m able to kind of get away from people and get down and that’s always a good thing.
(On if time, down, and distance factor in to if it is worth exposing himself) Yeah it’s one of those calculated risk-type things.
(On Ron Rivera stating he is impressed that Russell Wilson does not take a lot of big shots and if that is something he’s always had or if it was developed) I think that you just play a lot of football. Play in a lot of games and understand the situations. I make sure that I take care of myself throughout the week. I make sure through the offseason that I get my legs prepared and squat a lot and get my legs ready to go and so that way if I do take hits, I’ll be alright. Also at the same time, like you said, I think that just protecting the team in a way, protecting the quarterback and just getting down and making smart decisions. Don’t take any unnecessary hits and I just try to play the game the right way, the way it’s supposed to be played. I know that I can run and make things happen. But at the same time I’m always looking down the field to see if I can find somebody. If it’s not there, get out of bounds or get down.
(On what he sees in the young Panthers players) Well they’re doing a great job at flying around and making plays. You notice their defense. They’re playing with a lot of energy, playing with a lot of fire. I have a lot of respect for their defense, their secondary. Even though they’re young, they’re doing a tremendous job at playing big time football. You look at their past six games, and they look phenomenal. They’re here for a reason. They’re in the playoffs for a reason. They’re a great talented football team. They’ve battled and found their way here and we’re battling to find our way there too. It’s going to be one of those games that gets battle tested for sure.
(On what problems Carolina is going to have because their secondary is so young) It comes down to just making the plays. It’s going to come down to some one-on-one matchups. It’s going to come down to just trying to find a way to be explosive and break some tackles. They’re going to have to do a lot of things to try to stop us obviously. We’re very versatile in our offense and we do a lot of different things. But we know they do a lot of different things on defense too. We’re going to have to be on our best game plan possible and understand what we’re trying to do.
(On growing his hair out this playoff like he did last year) Yeah it’s the same as last year. It’s out. Funny thing is, we were in the huddle against Carolina first play of the game and I forget what our record was at the time, but we went on the road and played Carolina and Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse were standing next to me in the huddle with Marshawn [Lynch] and Doug [Baldwin] looked at me and said ‘Hey, what’s going on with that hair, you gonna grow that out this year or what?’ This is the first play of the game and I said ‘I may just have to, man. Got a lot of wins last year.’ Sure enough, that’s what I’ve been doing all year since then and it’s back, it’s long again, it’s a good thing.
(On if he is superstitious) I’m not a superstitious guy. I did it in high school, my junior year in high school and we won the state championship. That was our best season. It’s one of those things, I did it with my dad, and I did it last year so I might as well go with it.
(On if he feels lucky he doesn’t have to deal with noise as other quarterbacks do) I’m not sure about lucky, but I consider myself blessed to play in this stadium. It’s one of those things where you think about the amazing fans that we have, the energy that they bring, it’s a cool thing man, to watch. It’s one of those things that if you’re a fan of football, or like sports in general, it’s one of those things you have to put on your bucket list. It’s electric in there and I’m excited to play in there every time we get to step on the field.
(On what’s the longest his hair has been) My hair, man, Super Bowl probably. I had the long curls going on then. It worked though.
(On what he attributes his record to) I think you attribute it to great preparation, first of all. I would say the separation in the preparation. Just believing in it and just continue to progress from week to week. Also, guys around me making big time plays. Just being clutch and being in the right spot at the right time and delivering the ball to the receivers and letting them do all the work and they do a tremendous job of that, letting Marshawn [Lynch] do his thing and Robert Turbin, and the tight ends too. I think the offensive line has been great in the playoffs and have done a lot of great things in the past. So, think about the defense, obviously I credit the defense, it’s a team game and we need those guys and they need us. I think that ultimately it comes down to trying to just be clutch when the games on the line. If there’s two minutes left in the game I want the ball in my hands. It’s one of those things that I just believe in myself and believe in my team.
(On what the tangible effect of what was accomplished in the last two years and if there is a correlation) Yeah I definitely think there’s a correlation to the success of our offense and the things that we’ve been able to do in the past three years when the game’s on the line. It’s that conscious competence you just kind of believing in what we’re going to do and also just being really engaged when those moments happen. That’s what you prepare for, that’s what you wait for as a little kid and you get in those situations, and you use that experience, you use the ups and the downs, hopefully a lot more ups than downs but you use those experiences as much as you can and when you get in those situations just having a clear mind and being decisive and going for it.
(On Kevin Norwood, Cooper Helfet, and Paul Richardson stepping up and if this carried over for himself) Yeah it definitely carried over and that’s the great thing about our offense and what Coach Carroll has done and John Schneider brings all these guys in. We have so many different guys that we want to get the ball to and they can do so many different things and they’ve been clutch for us all year. Paul Richardson, Cooper Helfet, as you mentioned, Kevin Norwood last time we played the Panthers. Those guys have always played great football for us when the games on the line and I just have no fear of giving the ball to them. They show up every week. They show up every day and practice. They do a tremendous job and obviously Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse lead the way but like I said there’s no fear in anybody. You just believe in the guys you have around you.
(On having 11 fumbles, not having lost one and how it happened) The ball bounces our way I guess. I don’t know. Guys around me fight for the football and they do a great job of that.
(On growing and adapting within a leadership role) Yeah, you think about all the things we’ve gone through this year, the ups and the downs, the high expectations and we have higher expectations than anybody else in this room has for us. You just continue to try to lead the right way and continue to try and speak the right language. I think what you speak it really matters and what you believe in and how you go about it. Just being consistent in your approach. I think that any great leader, any great player, any great coach, any great musician , or anybody, whoever is around just being consistent in your approach and I think that’s one thing Coach Carroll really shows, his consistent approach, his positive mindset all the time no matter what the circumstances are no matter what it looks like. I think that I try to do the same things in terms of just trying to lead the right way and make sure that I continue to act on it but also speak about it too and just have a positive energy. I’m so grateful. One of the things I really wanted to focus on going into this year is just being really, really grateful for the circumstances that I’m in and just be really blessed to just play this game. To play this game you think about it, I get to go visit those kids –a lot of those kids at the Children’s Hospital look up to me for whatever reason and it’s like man, I’ve got the best job in the world. I get to play quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and I just turned twenty-six. I can’t complain. Just going out there and having the opportunity to play and just be grateful for being around amazing people, amazing players, being around amazing coaches, and having the best fans in the National Football League you got to love the game.
(On his preparation, routine, and consistency assist in the rockiness of earlier in the season) I think your preparation, your routine is huge. I think that going through that situation, all the situations that we’ve had this year and all the outside talk, you just ignore the noise and you just focus on your team and focus on coming together, and focus on leading and preparing the right way and being consistent in the way you practice. Being consistent in the way you prepare. Being consistent in the way you watch film. Being consistent in the way you approach your teammates. Being consistent in the way you take care of your body and most importantly being consistent on game day. We’ve been able to do that. I’ve had great support around me. Great help around me. Guys that had the same vision and same belief. I believe all 53 guys believe that way. That’s why we’re here today. That’s why we found a way to be in first place and worked our way there. Now it’s time to really show that and you take one game at a time and have a championship mindset 1-0.
(On how much bye week helped your body and your mind) Well it definitely helps your body and helps your mind just to have that week off and watch the games and just kind of recuperate a little bit. It’s one of those things where I told Coach Carroll, I said, man, we need to get first place every year. Just to have that week off – especially having that bye week early in the season, you go through training camp, you go through preseason, you have bye week, week five or week six, or whatever it was, early. Then you have all those games. It’s a great thing to have all those games because you get in a rhythm but your body you need to take care of it. So to have that week off to stretch and get your massage and do all the things you need to do and to kind of hit the reset button on your mind and get ready to go again, it’s a great thing.
(On helping to mitigate the change in routine) You help mitigate that by just trying stay in routine somehow, some way. Coach Carroll did a great job at preparing us for practice on I believe Wednesday and Thursday so you we went through those days as if it we were preparing for a week, big game. Then we had Friday, Saturday, Sunday off but you still watch the games and you still play the quarterback in your mind and you still prepare that way and you still look at the teams and study as much as you can. What are they doing in these situations, so that helps a lot. Just the best thing is, is you get to take a few days off but I still worked out, keep my body moving, and do the right things.
(On if he knew he was working out with the two best middle linebackers at the IMG, Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner at the time) I knew I was going to have two of the best middle linebackers in the league when I was working out with those guys. Just being around them, [Luke] Kuechly and Bobby [Wagner], great friends and guys that work so hard and they have the right mindset. Just love the way they approach the game and you feed off of that. And they fed off of me, hopefully and just one of those things just to be around those guys is a good thing. They’re going to be, in my opinion some of the best linebackers ever to play the game. I’m just glad Bobby’s [Wagner] on my team. He’s a tremendous football player, Bobby Wagner and I’ve got a lot of respect for Luke Kuechly as well.
(On Doug Baldwin mentioning watching film from week 8 and the comparison to now, and if he sees the same thing) They just look tremendous out there. Their defense is flying around and making a lot of plays and key situations too. You get prepared for it and that’s why they’re there. That’s why they’re here and that’s why we’re playing them. They’re coached extremely well by Coach Rivera and what they do. They have a lot of great players on defense too. Like I said their front seven is tremendous and their back end is doing a really, really good job especially for how young they are and how many plays they’re making. It’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be one of those games you want to watch for sure.
(On if the 2012 draft feeds motivation) You know you think about my class in general the 2012 for the Seahawks, everyone told us we weren’t going to be any good. We’ve heard that a lot. No matter what anybody tells you, you have to be a self-motivator. That’s what we have in the 2012 class of the Seattle Seahawks. They’re all self-motivators. We all believe in each other, we all believe in ourselves, and we’ve all kind of just pushed each other. When we first got here, I know we had a 2012 meeting and kind of told the guys I want to be the best class there’s ever been here. That’s kind of been our mindset. You think about Bruce Irvin, everybody told me he wasn’t going to make it or be a good decision and John Schneider, Coach Carroll, and Paul Allen picked him our first round draft pick. You think about Bobby Wagner, the guy is lights out. He really is. I was third round pick. Then you think about our fourth round pick. I think Robert Turbin was our fourth round pick. You keep going, you got Jeremy Lane, you got J.R. Sweezy, I arguably believe that he is the best guard in football and what he can do. So many different guys and Jermaine Kearse wasn’t even drafted but he’s a star-studded wide receiver in my opinion. There’s so many different guys too. But we’re just truly blessed to have great guys that have the same mindset and same visualization of being great every day. To work with those guys and the rest of our teammates too is a way of thinking for us and our culture we want to be the best and we’re going strive to be the best every time we step on the field and every time we step in a meeting.
(On if it feels any different this year on the eve of his first playoff game being the defending champ of last year) It’s no different. I think for us, it’s a new year. It’s a new year to try to prove ourselves and we’re going against a very good team, the Carolina Panthers. You just take one game at a time, you have a championship mindset, and you go for it. You leave it out on the field and we’ll see what happens. We just need to score one more point and that’s all that matters.