In his recent post ("What if Russell Wilson sucks in 2013?"), Aaron Di Silvestro cautions us against assuming that Russell’s performance in 2013 is bound to be as good as it was in 2012. It’s a good point, as I'd been thinking along similar lines (and anybody who agrees with me is, by definition, making a good point. :-)
So here's another, more dramatic way of putting Aaron's point. Specifically, consider what we’d currently be expecting from Russell if just three plays last year had turned out otherwise than they actually did. Obviously, three plays (out of an entire season) are such a tiny sample that they shouldn’t rationally make much difference in how we evaluate Russell looking ahead. But our human tendency is to do exactly that, so here are two alternate universes that are worth ponderi ... er, worth thinking about.
(1) The Bad Universe. In this imaginary world: (a) Golden Tate isn’t able to hold onto the pass to the end zone on the final play of the Green Bay game. (b) Brandon Lloyd manages to stay in-bounds to catch Tom Brady’s pass down the right sideline at the end of the Patriots game, putting New England in a position to kick the game-winning field goal. And (c) Trailing the Bears by four points, with only three minutes left to play, Marshawn Lynch fumbles at the Seahawks’ own 21 (after catching a short pass from Wilson) – but in this universe, the Bears rather than the Seahawks recover that fumble.
If all three of these plays had come out this way, and if nothing else about the rest of the season had changed ( an unrealistic assumption, obviously, but who expects realism when we’re discussing alternate universes?), this would have left the Seahawks at 8 wins and 8 losses, and well out of the playoffs. As Seattle fans, we’d now be looking for hope in the team’s one game improvement after two previous 7-9 seasons. We’d find some favorable things to point to, like the four game win streak to end the season that included a blow-out win over the 49ers in a Sunday night game.
But 49ers fans would now be taunting us with the fact that (in this universe) Russell hadn’t managed to beat even a single good team on the road. And even here on Field Gulls, most of us would be thinking of Russell as a QB who, although he still showed some potential for an upside, hadn’t yet achieved it. And remember: this is after a season that was exactly like last year’s in almost every respect, with changes to only three individual plays. (And none of those plays was even the QB’s fault, so they really shouldn't affect our QB projections at all.)
(2) The Good Universe. Here’s much happier alternative, which (again) is exactly like the actual 2012 season except for three individual plays: (a) In week one, Braylon Edwards scores the winning touchdown against Arizona when he manages to hold onto Russell’s pass into the end zone with under a minute to play. (b) In week four, with a minute to go, Anthony McCoy keeps his feet (rather than slipping and falling) and turns a short pass into what turns out to be the game-winning touchdown against the Rams. And (c) in the divisional playoff game against Atlanta, with only seconds remaining, Pete Carroll does not call a time out to try to ice Matt Bryant. As a result, Bryant only gets one shot at the uprights, and his 49-yard attempt is wide right.
These plays, too, could easily have gone the other way. In this universe, however, all of us would be going crazy over the first-year quarterback who (in this universe) shattered Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes while leading the Seahawks to an astonishing 14-2 regular season record, and at least as far as the NFC championship game in the playoffs. (In this universe, the Seahawks and 49ers would have met for the NFC title – and in Seattle, too – but since I said I was only going to change three individual plays from last season, I can’t tell how that hypothetical NFC title game would have ended.)
In any case, nobody in this universe would have any doubt that Russell had established himself as the best of 2012's rookie quarterbacks. Even fans of Washington and Indianapolis would concede the point, and their only argument would be whether Griffin or Luck was second.
What does this prove? Well, maybe not very much, other than showing that it’s fun to speculate about alternative universes (especially when they turn out well for the Seahawks). But does it bother anybody that, at least here on Field Gulls, our current faith in Russell is very nearly as strong as it would have been as if Russell really had led us to a 14-2 record, as in the "Good Universe" scenario described above.
Realistically, our expectations should be somewhere between my "Good Universe" and "Bad Universe" scenarios, since the only difference between those scenarios and the actual 2012 season involve three individual plays, any of which could easily have gone the other way. And since none of those plays had much to do with any skill or ability of the quarterback who was involved, why should those plays have any effect at all (much less such a huge effect) on what we expect from Russell in 2013?
Like they say, it’s a game of inches.