Reproduced with thanks from the Seattle News Tribune
While you were a nervous wreck, unable to sleep and wishing the game would get here already, Russell Wilson just finished his normal Saturday.
He planned on sleeping almost 12 hours.
No, the Seahawks’ ultra-poised leader is not sweating this NFC Championship Game against one of the league’s most accomplished quarterbacks of the last decade in Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Because he’s already seen how this game is going to go.
“Sometimes,” Wilson said after his third-down passing dismantled Carolina in last weekend’s divisional round, “I think I am made for these situations.”
What and who have made him what he is? What and who have made him 41-13 with a Super Bowl championship, a 5-1 postseason record and a 17-3 record in December, January and February?
The key to Wilson being the winningest quarterback in NFL history over the first three seasons of a career is the uncanny accuracy of what Wilson visualizes compared to what actually happens.
“That’s something that I tried to pride myself on. I think any great player has to be clutch,” he says. “And I’m always trying to be in that moment, always trying to be there in that space … I think it’s a mental space that you have to be in. You have to. You can’t shy away from those moments.
“It’s something that I try to rely on and just try to visualize myself being in every week.”
Since he was in grade school in Richmond, Virginia, in the early 2000s, Wilson has been visualizing the plays and scenarios he is convinced he’s about to see in games. And far more times than not — 41 times in 54 NFL starts, in fact — what he’s seen is what he’s gotten on his way to victory.
“He’s kind of taking it to another level that the elite guys are able to do that,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of Wilson’s visualization method. “A lot of times we talk to our players about doing that, but some guys do things a little bit differently, handle it a little bit differently. And he’s just special in that area.
“He can see it. He can visualize it, and he puts himself in those situations many times. Even before the season starts, he puts himself in those situations. He goes through those plays, he’s watching tape. And after he’s done watching tape, he’s going back through it in his mind.
Bevell was the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator and coached Brett Favre before he arrived in Seattle in 2011.
Bevell says Wilson is even better than Favre was at visualizing and then achieving success.
That’s what made him this way. So who did it?
Tammy and Harrison Wilson III.
“My parents raised me the right way. They’ve taught me I’ve been through a lot in my life, good and bad,” said Wilson, a self-described bully until about seventh grade. “So I think this game is something that I’m gifted to be able to play.
“One of the greatest gifts I have is obviously to play in the game of football and what God gave me. But also my parents, always, in terms of pushing me to play multiple sports.”
Hear that, parents?
“I think for me, being able to play football, basketball, baseball — this generation a lot of times either parents or high school coaches or kids just in general, they just want to play one sport,” Wilson said. “But for me I think that helps my game. First of all, in terms of being able to make different throws and all that. But also my mental game.
“I’ve been in so many situations where the game’s been on the line or so many times where you’ve been down a lot or the season is going well or not well, whatever the circumstances are. But you know how to get through those moments and also the rest of the things that happen in your life, as well. So it’s all a culmination of everything. That’s one of the things I’m grateful for.”
RODGERS AMONG THE BEST
Among the greatest, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks of the past 40 years — Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, John Elway, Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Rodgers — Wilson and Rodgers are the only two to make the playoffs in each of their first three seasons as a starter.
On Dec. 14, when the Seahawks beat the 49ers at home, Wilson passed Dan Marino and Joe Flacco for most regular-season wins by a quarterback in the first three seasons of a career.
His 41 regular-season and playoff victories are 10 more than Rodgers had through three seasons. Rodgers didn’t make the playoffs in the first of his initial three seasons replacing Favre as Green Bay’s starter.
Rodgers and Wilson each have a Super Bowl championship; Rodgers won the game in 2011 over Pittsburgh at the end of his sixth season.
His last NFC Championship Game was two weeks before that on Jan. 23, 2010. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 244 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 21-14 win at Chicago that the Packers’ opportunistic defense helped secure.
He’s the highest-rated passer in the league since 2011, with 139 touchdowns and just 25 interceptions. Yet Rodgers, 6-4 in the playoffs, still simmers over how he played in his previous conference title game four years ago.
“I’d like to play better than the last one. My best play was a tackle that day,” he said. “I had a pick to (former Chicago linebacker Brian) Urlacher and then they had a shoe interception. Other than that, it was about the way our defense played. I thought they played excellent that day; good enough to make up for some of the offensive struggles.
“Hopefully it’s a little different from the offensive side of the ball this week.”
Fewer than two dozen of the current 53 Packers remain from their 2010-11 Super Bowl team. Rodgers, who turned 31 last month, said that means experience in conference title games won’t mean so much against the Seahawks on Sunday.
“It’s a different team. I think it’s less than 20 guys still here from that team (and) it’s only four years ago,” said Rodgers, whose Packers are 4-4 on the road — including a 36-16 loss at Seattle in the opener — and 9-0 at home this season. “But we have confidence that we can win on the road.
“It’s a tough environment. It’s a great environment to play in. It’s loud. They’re a great defense and it’s going to be a great test, but the winner gets to play for it all.”
Wilson could play for it all for the second time in as many seasons. And he just turned 26 years old.
Brady, whose Patriots are hosting Indianapolis in the AFC title game Sunday, was most comparable to Wilson in the first three seasons of his career — 40-12, including playoffs. He won the Super Bowls at the end of his first and third seasons. But his Patriots went 9-7 and missed the postseason in Brady’s second year.
Wilson’s detractors call him merely a “game manager.” They spout that nine other passers were rated higher than him this season. But no team threw fewer times than Seattle. The Seahawks again rode the smashing running of 1,300-yard, 17-touchdown back Marshawn Lynch and the league’s best defense to move within a victory of becoming the first team since Brady’s 2003-04 Patriots to win a Super Bowl then get back there the following season.
To Pete Carroll, the reason Wilson has to be considered one of the very best quarterbacks is the very reason they play the games — even though Wilson didn’t even get picked for this month’s Pro Bowl.
“He’s a real winner. … Of all the qualities over the history of quarterbacks, the great ones are able to do that,” Carroll said. “I’m still disappointed about the Pro Bowl thing in that regard. Because if you want to win, you want him on your team.”
THE QUEST FOR MORE
On this weekend exactly one year ago, the Seahawks finished their dramatic victory over the 49ers to win the NFC championship. Confetti rained down on CenturyLink Field. Instead of celebrating with his giddy teammates, Wilson walked up to Bradshaw. The four-time Super Bowl winner with the Steelers was on the field having just finished Fox television’s postgame show.
Bradshaw put his arms around Wilson and told him he was proud of the Seahawks’ quarterback for accomplishing so much so soon.
“I’ve got a question for you: What do we need to do to win it, that’s different? What makes you win it?” Wilson asked Bradshaw, as captured by NFL Films.
“You’ve got to be really cool,” Bradshaw answered. “Don’t let the moment catch up with you. You’ve got to play the game down. If you build it up, it’s so important you’ll screw it up and you won’t play well. It’s not just another game, believe me, but you can make it one. Just be cool.”
Wilson’s reply: “Yes, sir.”
Another chip for Wilson to put in his visualization processor, the crutch that has made him clutch.
This season he’s worked specifically to get the ball out more quickly in the direction of where the many blitzes he faces emanate. From the Thanksgiving-night win at San Francisco heading into Sunday’s conference championship, Wilson has thrown nine touchdown passes with two interceptions while completing 62.7 percent of his throws as Seattle’s gone 6-0.
“I think you always are trying to find something new and try to contain to build,” Wilson said. “I always tell my quarterback coach (Carl Smith) K-T-N — keep taking notes.
“Just keep learning as much as I can learn. Whatever it is.”
During his 2011 season leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, he followed that state’s NFL star closely.
“He does the right thing all the time,” Wilson says. “I really like watching Aaron Rodgers play.”
But his closest NFL confidant is a quarterback in New Orleans people also said was too small to succeed.
“The guy I probably talk to the most and have tons of respect for is Drew Brees,” Wilson said. “We will text back and forth throughout the season. (A) guy that’s a great family guy. Guy that’s dedicated to the game and a guy that has done it better than most for a very long time now — guy that’s been ‘smaller’ — one of those guys. I love his demeanor when he’s out there. (I) pick his brain and learn from him.
“The best experience that I had was going to the Pro Bowl my rookie year and being around Drew and Eli Manning at the time and Peyton Manning and all the other guys.”
So though we don’t know exactly what will happen, Wilson has already visualized how this NFC Championship Game will go.
Actually, he’s been dreaming about it for decades.
“I visualize myself ever since I was a little kid to be in these moments. I’ve visualized it being fourth-and-7, and visualized third downs and red zones,” he said.
“So many times that I’ve been in those situations in my mind. … I’ve had some failures in it all, but I think that anytime I’m in those situations I keep trusting every time I’ll have success. Keep believing that’s going to happen in the right way for me.
“A lot of people talk about who’s the best quarterback and all that kind of stuff. I really don’t pay attention to it. I just try to do my job and I try to do my job better than anybody else.
“The only thing I care about is winning.”