Tarvaris Jackson watches Russell Wilson closer than anybody — in practices, during film study and, especially, on the field during games.
He has focused on Wilson through nearly 1,500 career pass attempts and 400 rushes. And he’s held his breath on nearly all of the 161 career sacks.
Jackson keeps his helmet nearby in case one of those collisions sends Wilson to the sidelines, and he would need to enter the game as Wilson’s replacement.
“Whatever it is, he’s doing something right,” Jackson said when asked about Wilson’s remarkable durability, which has allowed him to start 60 straight games heading into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. “I watch to make sure he gets up and he’s OK, but for the most part he does a great job protecting himself and getting down just before he gets hit.”
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For Wilson, it goes beyond just making every start since the first game of 2012, his rookie year. Wilson has never missed a practice because of injury. His name has never been listed on a daily injury report. Not so much as a: “probable, hangnail.”
In 3 ¼ seasons, with two Super Bowl appearances, two Pro Bowl honors, and more team wins than any other quarterback to start off an NFL career, Wilson has proven many things.
But perhaps the most stunning quality, one that gets lost amid the accolades and quantifiable statistics, is his toughness.
Even with his elusiveness, dozens of hits have been unavoidable, and a few looked devastating.
One time at San Francisco, linebacker NaVorro Bowman appeared to have dismembered him near the sidelines. There wasn’t even a limp from Wilson.
Even better was the time he scrambled against the Houston Texans in 2013 and met the monolithic J.J. Watt on the sidelines. Wilson is 5-11ish and 206 pounds; Watt is 6-5, 290, with a computer-generated physique.
Seahawks fans watched the aftermath through laced fingers. But Wilson ran back to the huddle while Watt rose with his face bloodied.
Monday night’s win over the Detroit Lions was the most recent example.
A second-quarter pass attempt was doomed from the snap, with pressure coming unblocked up the middle and then later off the left edge. But Wilson escaped by using a juke, a spin, a triple Lutz and a half-gainer from the pike position.
And the moment he unloaded a smoking liner for a 34-yard gain to Jermaine Kearse, Wilson was clobbered by 275-pound Devin Taylor. Wilson responded by practically sprinting to the line on the next play to deliver a dagger pass to Doug Baldwin in the end zone.
Several times, “MNF” cameras showed Detroit defenders panting like crazy, eyes rolling back into their heads from exhaustion and frustration. Wilson wasn’t even breathing hard.
It looked like the scene in “Rocky II” when the hulking pug was taken to the barnyard and tasked by his trainer with making the futile chase of a frantic chicken. Except in this scenario, Wilson is the comically elusive pullet.
Everybody on the Seahawks roster sees the grit and is lifted by the admirable effort.
“It proves to you how tough he is, that he’s willing to take those hits and make the big plays,” said Hawks defensive end Michael Bennett, a man not given to praising quarterbacks. “He’s proven that over time, and he’s one of the best at doing that.”
With back Marshawn Lynch out or slowed with injuries, Wilson has had to take on a heavier workload. As commentator Jon Gruden pointed out, the Seahawks’ offense is Russell Wilson.
The stats bear that out. Wilson’s passing and rushing totals account for 83.5 percent of the Seahawks total yardage. By comparison with a few of the game’s elite, Tom Brady is 83.1 percent of New England’s offense, while Peyton Manning (79.3), Philip Rivers (76.0), Matt Ryan (75.8) and Aaron Rodgers (73.8) are statistically less so for their teams.
Of the six quarterbacks drafted before Wilson in 2012, none can match his 60 consecutive starts. The Colts’ Andrew Luck had his streak broken recently; Robert Griffin III has been injured so often he’s no longer a starter for Washington. Miami’s Ryan Tannehill has not missed a start, but also never made it to the playoffs, so he’s eight games behind Wilson.
Brandon Weeden is a reserve, and Brock Osweiler has never started a game.
Watching Wilson absorb the six sacks against the Lions and still function caused Jackson to call his teammate “a different guy.”
“There aren’t many people who can do that,” Jackson said. “When quarterbacks get hit like that, you start bracing yourself, you start looking for the rush, you get those big eyes. For him to take those hits he was taking and still keep his eyes downfield to make plays and make a perfect throw, that says a lot.”
Jackson was the replacement for the all-time durable quarterback, Brett Favre, when his consecutive-starts streak ended at 297 in 2010.
“Brett was older then, and it wasn’t about him being able to play, but whether he could still take the licks and bounce back,” Jackson said.
Maybe it was stretching it to ask of Jackson whether Favre and Wilson shared any common characteristics. Favre played through injuries for 19 seasons; Wilson is barely into his fourth.
“For one thing, there’s nothing they couldn’t do on the field,” Jackson said. “Brett played through a lot of injuries; Russ has had some things, but mostly he’s great at dodging the big hits and taking care of himself.”
That’s how Wilson explains it, too. He focused on improving his speed in the offseason, and every week he trains to “make sure that I’m staying strong and fast. … I get my massages, get my stretching in, hot tub, cold tub, and then, come game day, I feel great.”
As the watchful Jackson said, whatever he’s doing, it’s working.