Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, as articulate and impassioned a communicator as there is in the NFL, seemed dumbstruck.
As he flailed to formulate an assessment, he just kept shaking his head, as if the movement itself might cause the words to come together.
The question was about his quarterback, Russell Wilson, who put together the third game of the best streak in his career in an absurdly noncompetitive rout of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
The game was predicted to be a “pick-’em” nail-biter, but Wilson threw three touchdown passes and ran for another to make this a 38-7 laugher.
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“It’s hard to even explain how he’s playing right now,” Baldwin said of Wilson. “He’s playing phenomenal. He’s trusting the line, staying in the pocket, making his reads and delivering the ball with stupid accuracy.”
Baldwin shook his head again, and raised the stakes even higher.
“When he’s playing like this, it’s hard to say who’s better than him.”
Time, now, to expand on that. When Wilson is playing like this, and the offense is scoring at this rate, it’s also hard to say which teams in the NFL are better than the Seahawks are.
Winners of five of their past six games, with back-to-back victories over Pittsburgh and Minnesota, it’s easy to imagine the Seahawks contending for a third consecutive conference championship-game appearance. Yeah, they look that good now.
In the past 12 quarters of play, Wilson has thrown 11 touchdowns passes, no interceptions, and also run for a touchdown. His three straight games with above 138.5 passer ratings are a career-best.
Nobody in the league has had back-to-back-to-back ratings like that this season. “I just think we’re collectively playing better,” Wilson said. “We haven’t been that far off, just a play here and a play there. We’re continuing to progress.”
Congratulate Wilson for not delivering his critics a series of head-noogies. He likes to say he “avoids the noise,” referring to external critiques which have suggested he isn’t as focused as he once was before his highly publicized relationship with a famed singer.
Other noise? He wasn’t progressing. He wasn’t staying in the pocket long enough. He wasn’t generating enough offense.
The difference between now, when his passer rating is at a career-high 106.2, and a few weeks ago when it was at an all-time low of 91?
“Protection,” quarterbacks coach Carl Smith said. “We’ve had several good weeks of protection; our offensive line is congealing. When he has time, and he’s got guys open, he hits them. He connects. Simple.”
The breadth of Wilson’s physical skills and competitive tenacity was never more apparent than on consecutive snaps late in the third quarter.
On a second-and-1 at the Seattle 47, Wilson pulled in the ball and took off toward the left sideline. Outrunning the Vikings defense, he motored in on an apparent 53-yard touchdown run.
Officials waved everybody back: Holding penalty against Seattle.
On the next snap, Wilson saw the Vikings loading up for an all-out blitz. He audibled, stood tall in the face of oncoming defenders, and delivered the ball to Baldwin for a 53-yard touchdown pass.
It was as if Wilson said, fine, give them another chance to stop us. It won’t matter, we’ll do it another way.
“What it says about our offense is that we’re resilient,” Baldwin said. “We can get it called back, but we’re going to come back and make more plays.”
Wilson spent the first half of the season focused on self-preservation, trying to stay vertical behind a highly permeable offensive line. It ruined his timing and, to some extent, his confidence in what the offense could pull off.
He certainly seemed skittish at times, and with good reason. A quarterback with running ability has to learn to balance improvisation with schematic design.
It’s a matter of finding a balance, sensing when to stand and deliver regardless of the personal peril and fleeing to buy time and second opportunities.
“I don’t want to take away the scramble part of it because there’s big, explosive plays that come out of that,” Wilson said. “I think there’s a happy medium.”
Yes, and he seems to have found it. And it’s been very happy for the Seahawks, indeed.
“As a collective group, I don’t think we can play too much better,” Wilson said.
A lot of his teammates feel the same way, and that should make a lot of other teams in the NFC take notice as this season heads toward the playoffs.