OK, so what tier is Russell Wilson on now?
A winning one.
But where does the coach of Seattle’s opponent on Sunday at CenturyLink Field rank the Seahawks’ much-debated franchise quarterback following what by one measure is the best four-week stretch of passing in league history?
“This is my 14th year in the league. It’s hard to put anybody else — Aaron Rodgers — it’s hard to put anybody else in that category. But he’s getting pretty darn close to it,” Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine said of Wilson Wednesday during a conference call.
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Pettine then made statements some took as a knock against Wilson.
“I think as a franchise the Seahawks have done an outstanding job of building in around him, that you take a lot off your quarterback’s plate when you play great defense or you’re one of the elite defenses in the league,” Pettine said. “That you run the ball extremely well, that opens some things up when you can stay ahead of the sticks. That’s what we’re striving for. When you build it the right way, you don’t have to turn to your quarterback and say, ‘Do everything.’
“But he’s certainly one of the best in the league. It’s just I’ve been around some darn good ones, and haven’t gone against Russell that many times… But I would put him right in that next tier of outside the best.”
Pettine said his top tier of quarterbacks is Tom Brady, Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger because they “can transcend (their) supporting cast.”
What Pettine hasn’t seen is that Wilson has transcended a porous offensive line for years. This season’s been the best of his career despite injuries to his top two running backs, Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls.
Seahawks soaring wide receiver Doug Baldwin had a succinct response to Pettine’s ranking of Wilson: “One man’s opinion.”
Wilson takes pride in saying repeatedly throughout a season “I ignore the noise.” But even Wilson knew Pettine had put him outside the league’s top tier of QBs.
“Yeah, I heard about it,” Wilson said. “It’s not my focus. Never really has been. Never will be.
“I always tell you guys I ignore the noise. Ultimately, it comes down to winning.”
This is Pettine’s second season as the Browns’ head coach. He was the defensive coordinator in 2013 for Buffalo and in 2009-12 for the New York Jets. He’s opposed Wilson one time as a coach, in Wilson’s rookie season of 2012 when Seattle beat the Jets 28-7.
Wilson completed 12 of 19 passes with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 131.0 on Nov. 11, 2012. Pettine’s Jets defense sacked him four times that day.
Pettine must have heard his Wednesday comments came across as a slight against the hottest quarterback in the league. On Thursday, Pettine opened his session with Cleveland’s media by informing them he’s updated his quarterback rankings.
“Every quarterback that’s ever played is tied for 1,” he joked. “The best ever.”
Wilson’s last four weeks have been just that.
After last week’s career high-tying five touchdown passes at Baltimore, Wilson is the first quarterback to have four consecutive games with at least three touchdown passes, no interceptions and a completion rate of at least 70 percent.
The fourth-year veteran who has started every game since the opener of his rookie season for Seattle is the first to have a passer rating of 138.5 or better in four consecutive NFL games. Passer rating became an official league statistic in 1973.
“We’ve improved drastically,” Wilson said of his offense, adding of himself only a tepid: “I think I’m playing a little bit better.”
Asked what specifically he’s doing better, Wilson returned to his common refrain: the play of his offensive line, his receivers, his running backs — heck, just about everyone including the team’s groundskeeper.
So where does Wilson rank? On what “tier” should he actually reside?
Some compelling numbers say at the top.
His passer rating this season of 110.0 leads the league. His career passer rating is 101.3 on 1,636 attempts. Only one other quarterback in league history has a career rating above 100 with a minimum of 1,500 throws: Rodgers (105.0).
Wilson has 98 touchdown passes against 33 interceptions in four regular seasons. That ratio of 2.97 to 1 is second best in league history with a minimum of 1,500 throws. Rodgers is first, with 4.10 TDs for each interception (254 TDs, 62 INTs).
And as Pettine noted, Wilson wins. That, above all else, is why the Seahawks gave him an $87.6 million contract extension with $61 million guaranteed in July.
He’s the first quarterback to start two Super Bowls and win one in his first three seasons. A victory over the two-touchdown-underdog Browns (3-10) on Sunday would be Wilson’s 45th in the regular season. That would break his tie with Baltimore’s now-injured Joe Flacco for most victories in the first four regular seasons of a career.
Wilson’s career record of 44-17 is a winning percentage of .721. The only quarterback with a better one: Brady (.777, at 171-49).
Wilson has also won more home games in the first four seasons of a career than any QB in league history. He’s 26-4.
Of all the numbers, those are the ones he says he cherishes.
“All the stats and all that, you know, that’s fun and exciting. Obviously, everyone wants to play well and at a high level,” Wilson said.
“But we come here to win.”
This latest winning has come as his offensive line has turned from fatal to “phenomenal,” to use Wilson’s word. Seattle allowed 31 sacks in the first seven games, by far the league’s most. Wilson’s been sacked just eight times total in the last six games, as Patrick Lewis replacing Drew Nowak at center has greatly improved communication and Wilson has complied with coaches’ bye-week orders to throw more quickly.
The four straight wins have also been the best games of Baldwin’s life. The former undrafted wide receiver has eight touchdown catches from Wilson in the last three games.
That ties Baldwin with Drew Bennett (in 2004) and Jerry Rice (1987) for the most TD catches in that span. In the last 15 years, only Baldwin, Bennett, Randy Moss (2007) and Dwayne Bowe (‘10) have had at least 75 yards receiving and multiple touchdowns in three consecutive games.
“Doug and I are really close. It’s been a lot of fun. This year has been a blast, just playing with him and the type of player that he is,” Wilson said. “He can do so many different things for us. And the type of leader that he is, the leadership he has in this room … It’s been a lot of fun.
“It’s a joy to play with him. And just as a person, he’s one of the best guys you can know.”
One of the best. That, after one the best four-game streak of passing in league history, is what everyone can say about Russell Wilson.
No matter what tier of “best” you want to assign to him.
WR Ricardo Lockette was inside the locker room before practice for the first time in weeks. He was joking with teammates around one of the room’s two pingpong tables. He was still wearing the neck brace he’s had on since neck surgery the first week of November in Dallas to repair ligament damage, days after he took a vicious hit in the Nov. 1 game against the Cowboys. Lockette said he’s wearing the brace as a precaution; he’s afraid of turning his neck quickly reacting to everyday life and reinjuring it. He says all is well and doctors are focusing for now on his quality of life, not football. … Kam Chancellor missed his second consecutive practice with a bruised tailbone. That increases the probability of Kelcie McCray making his first Seahawks start, at strong safety. Defensive coordinator Kris Richard said the team traded with Kansas City for McCray at the end of the preseason because of his tackling ability. That would come in handy Sunday, as Seattle expects Cleveland to try to establish the run. … CB DeShawn Shead (ankle) and DE Michael Bennett (sore toe) practiced on a limited basis after missing Wednesday. … TE Anthony McCoy, who made his season debut last week at Baltimore with 15 snaps missed practice again (knee/ankle). … DE Cliff Avril rested a second consecutive day. … Sunday’s weather forecast for game time: 100 percent chance of rain showers and temperatures in the mid-40s.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle