Seahawks record-breaker Russell Wilson hasn’t been just excellent throwing to Tyler Lockett this season.
He’s been perfect.
Wilson is now Seattle’s leader for touchdown passes in a regular season, after his 35th on Sunday. He also broke Dave Krieg’s franchise record with his 196th career touchdown pass in the regular season. And he set another team record with a passer rating of 110.9 this season.
“Touchdowns do matter, but I’m not a stats person,” Wilson said following the Seahawks 27-24 victory over Arizona that sends them to Dallas for the NFC wild-card playoffs on Saturday.
“The most important stat is wins and winning, and that’s what I care about the most. ... At the end of the day, I want to be known as the greatest winner of all time.”
Both those records were set throwing to Lockett. That figures.
Wilson completed 57 of 71 throws for 965 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions while targeting Lockett in the regular season. That’s a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Sunday’s game-clinching catch was another example of how perfectly synchronized the Seahawks’ passer and his big-play catcher have become this season.
With the Seahawks scuffling around with the 3-13 Cardinals in the regular-season finale, tied at 24 with 1:02 remaining at CenturyLink Field, Wilson slid to his right to avoid an Arizona pass rush that had already sacked him six times. Lockett was the receiver wide to that side. He was assigned to run a deep post route, behind Doug Baldwin’s shorter, stop route underneath.
Lockett saw a huge expanse of open field, a clear lane south almost to SeaTac Airport, behind strong safety Antoine Bethea and far to the right of deep Cardinals free safety Tre Boston. Instead of running his assigned post route, at Boston, Lockett improvised into an outside route. It became almost an opposite, flag route to the sideline instead.
As Lockett raised his hand Wilson read the change. He fired his pass outside, away from Boston, away from every Cardinal, but away from the called route — and opposite Lockett’s inside look and shoulder turn. That became Lockett’s second adjustment on the play. He subtly twisted his shoulder from inside to outside, jumped and snared Wilson’s throw toward the sideline at the Cardinals 27-yard line.
Three clock-expiring runs later Sebastian Janikowski kicked a last-play field goal to beat Arizona for the second time this season.
“I was running deep. I just didn’t run to the safety. I just ran to open field,” Lockett said.
The play and improvisation that made it work was similar to Wilson’s pass to Lockett late in the game last month at Carolina, which set up the third last-play field goal by Janikowski for a win this Seattle season. On that play in Charlotte Nov. 25, Wilson slid to the left in the pocket to extend the play, then knew Lockett would break off his planned route deep because he had done that in the walk-through practice two days before that game.
That’s why the Seahawks gave the 26-year-old Lockett a $31.8 million contract extension for three years this summer.
“In the fourth quarter, like I’ve said to you guys I think when we were in Carolina, you have to look forward to the moment, you either fear it, or you don’t,” Wilson said. “I know for me, I look forward to it. I know our football team, we do, too, as well.
“We’ve done it so many times before, this year, and also in the past six, seven years. ...It’s something that we practice, as well. We visualize. We communicate.”
Wilson and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer took advantage of Arizona cornerbacks aggressively sitting on Seattle’s short route early to throw the record-setting touchdown pass to Lockett in the first quarter. The Cardinals’ jumping short routes included David Amerson’s interception of Wilson in the first quarter, the quarterback’s second turnover in eight games.
On third-and-3, Wilson waited as the Cardinals again jumped on short routes, including Baldwin’s hook inside Lockett. Lockett simply ran free down the hash marks from slot right behind the shorter coverage for an easy, 29-yard touchdown pass from Wilson. That put Seattle ahead 14-3.
Lockett flipped over the goal line to celebrate his 10th touchdown catch of the season, extending his career high.
“He’s been special all year,” Wilson said.
With Michael Bennett traded to Philadelphia and fellow Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril retired because of a neck injury, a huge concern for the Seahawks entering this season was: Where will the sacks come from?
Frank Clark and Jarran Reed, that’s who.
Clark had two more sacks on Sunday, finishing the regular season with 14. That’s four more than he had in his previous career-best season of 2016. It was the most in a Seahawks regular season since Patrick Kearney had 14 1/2 in 2007.
With 33 sacks in the last three seasons and his contract ending after this one, the 25-year-old Clark has set himself up for a mammoth pay day perhaps approaching or exceeding $18 million per year this coming spring. Seattle’s top draft pick in 2015 made $940,000 this year.
Clark was the one returning pass rusher with a track record of sacks. Reed was not. He had three sacks, total, in his first two NFL seasons.
But Seattle’s second-round draft choice in 2016 had two more sacks Sunday to finish with 10 1/2 this season. That’s a remarkable, Aaron Donald-like number for a defensive tackle.
Reed said he’s learned specifically from Clark this season. What, exactly?
“Everything,” Reed said.
“Pass rushing. Run games. That’s the game, and that’s what he does.”
Clark’s and Reed’s 24 1/2 combined sacks this season were third-most in Seahawks’ history. Jeff Bryant (14 1/2) and Jacob Green (13) had 27 1/2 in 1984. Michael McCrary (13 1/2) and Michael Sinclair (13) combined for 26 1/2 sacks in 1996.
O-line back next week
Coach Pete Carroll said he expects the starting offensive line to return to health enough to start Saturday night’s playoff game at Dallas. That would mean J.R. Sweezy back at left guard from a sprained arch in his left foot, D.J. Fluker back at right guard after preserving his strained hamstring against Arizona and Germain Ifedi back outside at right tackle after playing for Fluker at right guard Sunday.
“Fortunately we should be back to pretty good shape next week,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks made Sweezy stay home instead of watching Sunday’s game from the sideline, to keep him off the foot.
“He’s been rehabbing around the clock,” Carroll said, “so he’ll give us everything he’s got to get back.”
The Seahawks need a return to the starting five up front. They gave up six sacks Sunday. It was their most allowed since the losses at Denver and at Chicago in weeks one and two when Wilson was throwing 73 percent of the time.
Wilson was sacked a career-high 51 times this regular season. That’s the third-highest total in team history, a starting number considering no NFL full-time starting quarterback threw fewer times than Wilson did this season.
The Seahawks entered the weekend tied for 10 in the league for most sacks allowed.
Local coaches raise flag
Coaches from the six high schools that won football state championships in Washington during the 2018 season raised the 12th Man flag shortly before kickoff.
Union’s Rory Rosenbach, Eastside Catholic’s Jeremy Thielbahr, Hockinson’s Rick Steele, Colville’s Randy Cornwell, Kalama’s Sean McDonald and Odessa’s Jeff Nelson were each honored, wearing customized jerseys and cheering with the crowd as the flag was raised.
Union won the 4A state title earlier this month in the Tacoma Dome, routing Lake Stevens, 52-20. Eastside Catholic topped O’Dea, 31-13, for the 3A title. And Hockinson won back-to-back 2A titles with a comeback win over Lynden.
A week after knocking off top-ranked Royal, which was at one point tied for the nation’s longest winning streak, Colville handled Newport, 48-7, for the 1A title. Kalama repeated as the 2B champion, beating Napavine, 34-25. And, in 1B, Odessa won the eight-man title with a 63-12 victory over Almira-Coulee-Hartline.
The News Tribune’s Lauren Smith contributed to this report.