Frozen in bronze and in time, Johnny Unitas is anchored outside the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium in his customary pose: arm cocked, looking downfield for an open receiver.
Ignoring the fact that he never played for the Ravens, he was the heart of Baltimore as a Colt and ushered the NFL into the modern era of passing offenses and televised drama.
They cast statutes of you for that kind of a career.
The game was different back then, no question. But even the iconic Johnny U never went on a streak as hot as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is now (16 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games).
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Wilson added five of those touchdowns to his total in the 35-6 win over Baltimore.
Of course, few NFL quarterbacks ever have been this productive. Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Dan Marino never went four games without an interception while throwing as many as 16 touchdown passes.
It’s been done. Tom Brady went 26 TDs and zero INTs in a wicked 11-game stretch in 2010; Peyton Manning went 16-0 in the first four games of ’13. And Aaron Rodgers matched the 16-0 but needed five games to do it in 2014.
I’m not saying Wilson is a Hall of Famer yet, or necessarily destined to join that pantheon. A lot can happen. The point here is that his current streak of accuracy and efficiency is approached only by some of the greats of the game.
And as was the case with Unitas, most of the great quarterbacks had a security-blanket receiver, a go-to guy with whom he shared a special connection.
For Unitas, it was Raymond Berry. For Wilson, it’s Doug Baldwin.
Baldwin has eight TD catches in the last three games — more than half of his total in the first four seasons of his career (15).
“I think Doug’s playing phenomenal football … Pro Bowl, All-Pro type of play,” Wilson said.
All six of Baldwin’s catches against the Ravens went for first downs, and three for touchdowns of 14, 16 and 22 yards.
“It’s been amazing the past few weeks,” Baldwin said. “I have to give a lot of credit to Russ; he’s playing unbelievable. I know he’ll come up here and say nothing’s different, but he’s been playing his tail off, unbelievable. I can’t say enough about what he’s doing right now for us.”
Baldwin’s best catch on Sunday didn’t even count, and it was perhaps the day’s best example of the Wilson/Baldwin extrasensory interplay. Under heavy pressure in the red zone, Wilson spun away from trouble and almost blindly winged it to the corner of the end zone where Baldwin pulled it in. He was knocked out of bounds in the process, so it counted as incomplete.
It was evidence of the special, almost telepathic, communication Wilson and Baldwin share.
“A lot goes into it,” Baldwin said. “It’s him knowing my body language, knowing when I’m going to cut, knowing what I’m going to do. Like I said last week (against the Vikings) I ran the wrong route but he put the ball in the perfect spot because he was reading my body language.”
When players are that in-tune, two wrongs it seems can make a touchdown.
“(It’s) the nuances, the subtleties that come with the game,” Baldwin said. “We’re finally on the same page.”
Not just on the same page, but off the charts.
As always, Wilson tried to give credit to every receiver on the roster when asked specifically about Baldwin, but he admitted that the two “are really clicking.”
Wilson is probably the first to bring Baldwin into the Pro Bowl conversation. It’s hard for a receiver on a run-first team to build the kind of numbers needed.
But Baldwin has been crucial in helping Wilson boost his stats to career-high levels, and that scores points.
It’s early to start sculpting any statues yet, but this special connection between Wilson and Baldwin is going to make the Seahawks very dangerous down the stretch of this season and off into the future.