Russell Wilson, Darrell Bevell — heck, all the Seattle Seahawks — don’t need anything elaborate or extensive for Christmas.
Sure, the NFC West title, top seed in the conference’s upcoming playoffs and the inside track to a second consecutive Super Bowl are what they want most.
But to get there, all they really need is a block of wood on which to knock.
There have been 73 quarterbacks to play in the NFL this season. Wilson, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford are the only three who have taken all their team’s snaps.
That’s every one of Seattle’s 892 snaps into Wilson’s invaluable mitts; Arizona and Houston are playing their fourth QBs this season. Not only that, Wilson has started every one of 46 regular-season games, four playoff games and one Super Bowl since he became the Seahawks’ starter in the first week of his rookie season in 2012.
Wilson has also never even been on an injury report in the 52 weeks of his career. Not even for a practice day. Not even while he’s been behind a battered and porous offensive line that has struggled to protect him for the last two seasons.
How remarkable is that, especially with Arizona (11-3) having to start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley in Sunday night’s showdown against the Seahawks (10-4) in what is essentially the NFC West Division championship game?
“It’s so remarkable,” said Bevell, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, “I probably don’t want to talk about it.”
Then Bevell knocked on the round tabletop in front of him.
“Knock on wood,” he said.
Bevell likens Wilson to another quarterback the coordinator used to have when Bevell was the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay from 2003-05, and in 2009, when he was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. That was when the Vikings signed some guy named Brett Favre.
Favre, of course, is the dean of durability. His 321 consecutive starts in the regular season and playoffs from 1992 to his retirement at age 41 following the 2010 season is the NFL record for all positions.
“Yes, I’ve been so fortunate in my career. I was able to coach a guy that was able to play forever and ever, and you expected him to be at every game regardless,” Bevell said. “I think we have a similar guy in Russell.
“He’s taken some hits, but the best thing that we talk about him every time is the decisions that he makes. Most of the time, he keeps himself out of harm’s way and he’s able enough to escape some things when he gets out and runs — he gets down or he gets out of bounds. So all those decisions really help him to be able to stay in there.
It’s not mere coincidence that Wilson has become the NFL record holder for most wins by a quarterback in his first three regular seasons. He passed Dan Marino a week ago, when he and Seattle beat San Francisco, 17-7, for the Seahawks’ fourth consecutive victory and the 34th regular-season win of Wilson’s career.
“One of my goals is to never miss a practice in my career,” Wilson says.
Yes, a practice.
Wilson has talked about how he doesn’t sleep much during the week leading up to games — and then sleeps as much as 12 hours on Saturdays. He said he recently made changes in the food he eats, to better prepare and maintain his body for getting pounded on each weekend from September into January.
“I try to stay away from a whole bunch of sugar. That helps me. My dad died of diabetes so I try to be real particular about that,” he said. “I do have to eat certain things — carbs and stuff like that — to keep my body going through the season.”
Wilson never missed a game because of injury while winning two state titles at Collegiate High School in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. He didn’t miss a game due to injury in college, either, over his three seasons following a redshirt year at North Carolina State and his one season at Wisconsin as a fifth-year senior.
He began starting in the first game of his redshirt-freshman season with N.C. State on Aug. 28, 2008, at the University of South Carolina. Still honing his knack for avoiding huge hits from hungry defenders, he took a knee to his head in that game.
“It was kind of one of those freak accidents; nothing that I could have really done,” Wilson said this week.
“I actually got knocked out my first college game ever. That was a good experience,” he deadpanned of the Wolfpack’s 38-0 loss to the Gamecocks in his college debut. “We were playing South Carolina. I think we could have won that game if that wasn’t the case, but I got knocked out. The next week, I was cleared to play. I played a couple snaps (against) William & Mary, but I didn’t play the entire game.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough not to miss too many games. I try to get down, I try to play smart,” the 5-foot-11, 206-pound quarterback said. “Like I always say, I’m short and stocky for a reason, so I can take a couple of hits every once and a while.”
The blitzing, swarming Cardinals sacked Wilson seven times and hit him 11 other times in Seattle’s 19-3 home win last month. Wilson’s improvisational scrambles saved him from at least a half-dozen more sacks. That happened with the Seahawks missing two starters on its porous offensive line.
The Seahawks are again going to be without two starters on their offensive line on Sunday. Left tackle Russell Okung was briefly hospitalized with a bruised lung last weekend, and center Max Unger hasn’t returned from a high-ankle sprain that has had him sidelined the past four games.
Plus, right guard J.R. Sweezy only returned to practice Friday; he sprained his ankle last week. Sweezy and coach Pete Carroll say he’s ready to go, but if he can’t make it through the game Lemuel Jeanpierre — Unger’s replacement at center — is ready to replace Sweezy at guard. That would force fourth-stringer Patrick Lewis in at center. Lewis struggled with line calls in the first Seahawks-Cardinals game.
Arizona blitzes more than all but three NFL teams. The Cardinals are going to be zooming at fill-in left tackle Alvin Bailey, overloading a side with more defenders than the offense has blockers as Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles always schemes.
That’s Seattle’s biggest challenge to winning the West again.
“They’re probably more willing than anyone else that we’ve played to be aggressive and go after you and really just call the pressures in situations where some teams wouldn’t do it. They’re very bold,” Carroll said. “Todd does a great job of getting after it. They’re attitude is part of their style.”
The Cardinals swarm most when the game is on the line. Arizona has won five games by a single score, yet it has outscored foes 102-43 in the fourth quarter during its best start to a season since the 1975 St. Louis Cardinals finished that regular season 11-3.
“The later in the game the more aggressive they get,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks’ defense hasn’t exactly been rolling over lately, either. It’s on a historic four-game streak of stinginess. Led by the return to health of speedy, smart middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and attacking strong safety Kam Chancellor, plus the emergence of 11-year veteran fill-in nose tackle Kevin Williams clogging running lanes for injured Brandon Mebane, Seattle has allowed an average 6.8 points and 188 yards per game in wins over Arizona, San Francisco, Philadelphia and the 49ers again.
Wagner’s task today will be to shut down the Cardinals’ resurgent rushing game with practice-squad signee Kerwynn Williams. Wagner and the younger Williams were teammates at Utah State, and Wagner calls the second-year running back a good friend.
“Yeah,” Wagner said with a grin. “I can’t wait to hit him.”