I have spent a lot of time today thinking about what happened on this day (January 13, if you're reading it later in the week) exactly two years ago. The Seattle Seahawks were in Atlanta to take on the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs. It was both one of the worst and best days of my life.
What only the briefest of history will remember is that the Seahawks lost that day, 30-28. Season over after a run of six straight wins, most of which carried improbable and unfathomable happenings:
- Wilson leading Seattle on not one, but two game-winning drives in Chicago.
- Forcing eight turnovers in a 58-0 win over the Cardinals.
- Dropping 50 again the following week in Toronto against the Bills.
- Playing a rivalry game against the 49ers despite fans in San Francisco saying the Seahawks weren't good enough to be their rivals, and dismantling them 42-13.
- Going into Washington against Robert Griffin III, Rookie of the Year, and reeling off 24 unanswered points to win 24-14.
But none of that could measure up to what Wilson did in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, even though they ended up losing the game. Atlanta led 20-0 at half and 27-7 going into the final quarter, and then something clicked for Wilson and the offense.
Following the Falcons taking that 20 point lead in the third quarter, Wilson was 4-of-4 for 69 yards on the next drive and finished it with a rushing touchdown. He was 3-of-3 for 57 yards, including a touchdown pass to Zach Miller. He was 3-of-4 for 50 yards on the go-ahead drive, leaving just :34 seconds on the clock. I was floored at this moment. Just completely overjoyed like I never had been before.
His fourth quarter stats that day, before the real final "drive" were: 10-of-14, 176 yards, one touchdown, one rushing touchdown, 21 unanswered points in less than 13 minutes of game time.
Of course, Atlanta did the unthinkable, and got into field goal range for Matt Bryant to hit the game-winning 49-yarder. Had Pete Carroll not tried to freeze Bryant, his initial attempt was no good and maybe NFL history looks a lot different. It's hard not to think about it at least a little bit, but easier to think about it since the Seahawks won the Super Bowl the next year.
But I do wonder if it's possible that Russell Wilson could be going to his third straight NFC Championship in three years right now. How would we, as fans, even handle that? Football just doesn't see stuff like that. Sports in general barely ever see anything like that. Because stats are often loved but scrutinized while winning is absolute.
What if right out of the gate, Wilson and Seattle won and just kept winning? What would we think of him then?
I say it was also one of the best days of my life because I decided to quit smoking that day. I wouldn't let January 13 be a terrible day to remember, I would make it a milestone to cherish and I have kept that promise. Not one cigarette in two years. I was going to become better because of the day, not let it destroy me.
Wilson and the Seahawks seem to have done something similar.
Here are some statistical notes from their win over the Carolina Panthers. Something that was much, much sweeter than the loss to Atlanta.
- In addition to jumping like he had just listened to a mix-tape of only songs about jumping (Van Halen, Kriss Kross, House of Pain, etc.), Kam Chancellor also happened to have perhaps the best game of any player this weekend. Chancellor ended the game on his 90-yard interception return but also had 11 tackles (most in the NFL for a safety this weekend), seven stops (more than double any other safety), and allowed six catches for just 37 yards.
This game comes one year after he was also the best safety, perhaps the best defensive player, perhaps the best player at any position for the playoffs. In three games, Chancellor had 21 solo tackles, eight assists, 10 stops, two interceptions, and three passes defensed ... all of which was the most in the playoffs for any safety.
He also lapped the field. He had twice as many assists as any safety, twice as many interceptions as the rest of the NFL's safeties combined, more than twice as many stops, five more tackles, and he allowed only 65 yards on 12 catches.
"Playoffs Kam Chancellor" is arguably the best player in NFL history.— haute takes (@KennethArthuRS) January 12, 2015
- Richard Sherman was thrown at five times, allowing two catches for 45 yards with an interception and a pass defensed. However, it was a very tough day for Tharold Simon.
Cam Newton was 10-for-10 for 114 yards and two touchdowns when throwing at Simon. It was pretty easy for Kelvin Benjamin to do what he wanted on Simon, so you should hope Byron Maxwell is back when it's Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers doing the throwing.
- Russell Wilson posted a passer rating of 149.2, the fifth-highest in playoff history on a minimum of 20 attempts, and the 12th-highest on a minimum of 10 attempts. Wilson has two of the last four playoff games with a QB posting a passer rating of 120 or higher, including his 123.1 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In NFL history, 94 quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of 120 or better on a minimum of 10 attempts in playoff history and their overall record is 91-3. Two of those losses came in games where both quarterbacks posted a rating of 120 or better, and Rodgers was involved in both of those games: His wild 51-45 loss to Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals in 2008, and his 26-21 win over Tony Romo on Sunday.
- I'd like to call Jermaine Kearse, "January Jermaine" but they play that pesky Super Bowl in February. Stupid February with it's stupid extra 'r.'
Kearse has caught a touchdown in three straight playoff games now, including the game-winner in last season's NFC Championship game, a 23-yarder in the Super Bowl that made it 36-0, and Saturday's 63-yard one-handed scorcher on a Russell Rainbow.
This is a guy who caught one touchdown all season long. Kearse's three catches went for 33, 33, and 63 yards each; That's as many catches over 30 yards as he had all season. Let's hope that January Jermaine is ready for the Packers, since there will be no Paul Richardson.
Doug Baldwin was less productive, catching three passes for 38 yards, but one of them was a touchdown.
- In a weekend that had Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, and Jason Witten, the best tight end in football was Luke Willson. Cherish these moments.
On the key fourth quarter drive that opened the game up to a two-score lead, Willson had a 29-yard catch and run, then later a 25-yard touchdown. Carolina corner Bene Benwikere went for the strip instead of the tackle on that 29-yarder, and subsequently injured himself on the play. Willson ended up with four broken tackles in the game, double that of any other tight end in the playoffs so far.
Over the last three games, Willson has caught nine of 11 targets and gained 239 yards with three touchdowns. That's a ridiculous 26.5 yards per catch, and an even more impressive 21.7 yards per target. And though Willson had an 80-yarder against the Cardinals, it's not as though his numbers are mostly average and then lifted by one big play; Willson has 10 plays this season that went for less than 10 yards and nine that went for 20 or better, including playoffs.
Remember that Willson had the highest SPARQ score for tight ends in the 2013 draft and it was believed that despite his lack of production in college, he had the athletic upside to at least be a good fantasy tight end. It's possible that fantasy is becoming a reality right now in front of our own very eyes.
Maybe you can savor the moment, and not just cherish it.
- Russell Wilson's postseason numbers now look like this: 97-of-152, 63.8%, 1,364 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception, 109.6 rating, 8.97 Y/A, 33 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown.
On a minimum of 150 attempts, it ranks first in postseason history for passer rating and Y/A. To be fair, it's only one more game than Jeff Hostetler: NFL's postseason king on a minimum of 100 attempts. Hostetler played in five playoff games from 1990-1993, had a rating of 112, and a Y/A of 8.99 with seven touchdowns and no picks.
It would just be nice to see Russell close out the postseason strong and keep his numbers high, getting those attempts over 200. At that point you also start to filter out other guys high on the postseason rating list, like Alex Smith, Erik Kramer, and Mark Sanchez.
Wilson's passer rating would be even higher if not for one play that can't possibly be held against him.
In that devastating loss to the Falcons, the Seahawks miraculously still had a chance. For some reason, Atlanta left time on the clock. It was only :8 seconds, but it was time. There was a chance for a 65-yard field goal attempt, but instead Carroll opted for the heave-and-pray over the kick-and-pray. (The kicker that day was Ryan Longwell, remember.)
Wilson took a shot deep and it was intercepted. By Julio Jones.
The only person to intercept Russell Wilson on 152 playoff pass attempts over six games is a wide receiver. Yeah, this guy is pretty good.