SEATTLE — When this football season started, no rookie quarterback had more heat on him than the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.
The other rookies — Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill — were playing for teams with moderate expectations.
Their franchises were coming off miserable seasons. Their teams, at least in the early-season games, could live with the expected rookie mistakes, the misreads, the forced throws, the oh-no-not-in-the-red-zone interceptions.
But in Seattle, the Seahawks were expected to be contenders. In coach Pete Carroll’s third season, the pieces were in place. This was a playoff team, if ...
Russell Wilson was the if. He was the rookie who had beaten out the high-priced veteran Matt Flynn in training camp. He was the untested 5-foot-not-quite-11, third-round draft pick, who was expected to make plays in a season when every weekend felt as important as the playoffs.
Wilson, unlike the other rookies, wasn’t granted the luxury of time. His future was now.
He had early games against Dallas, Green Bay and New England.
If he wasn’t ready, if he made even the usual amount of rookie mistakes, the Seahawks could have been buried early and the call for Flynn would come swiftly and loudly from the sellout crowds at CenturyLink.
But the Hawks won all three.
Wilson has surpassed — I suspect even Carroll’s — most optimistic expectations.
And, with two games left in the regular season, I believe he should be NFL Rookie of the Year.
Wilson had to win.
And he has.
He had to get better. And, oh my, has he.
He has run the Seahawks like a 10-year veteran.
He has dodged blitzes and escaped pass rushers like no quarterback since the Minnesota Vikings’ Fran Tarkenton in the 1970s.
You know those Warren Miller movies where a daredevil skier disappears in a blanket of powder, only to reappear miraculously farther down the slope? That’s Wilson hiding, then escaping, outside the pocket.
He’s never disoriented. He spins and shifts and somehow his personal GPS system guides him to safety. Then he either finds an open receiver or scrambles for first-down yardage.
All three Rookie of the Year contenders — Wilson, Luck, Griffin III — have incredible intangibles, but here are the numbers: Wilson has thrown for 2,697 yards. He has 21 touchdown passes to nine interceptions. His rating is 95.5.
Luck has 3,978 passing yards, but has 18 interceptions to 20 touchdown passes. His rating only is 75.5. And Griffin, who didn’t play last week because of a knee sprain, has 18 touchdown passes to only four interceptions. He has thrown for 2,902 yards and has a 104.2 rating, second-best in the league.
All three have had remarkable seasons. Luck’s fourth-quarter comebacks have been Tom Brady-like. All three have led their teams into playoff contention. The Colts (9-5) won two games in 2011. The Redskins won five games last year and now they’re tied for first in the NFC East with an 8-6 record.
And the Seahawks have won nine games for the first time since 2007 and have scored 50-plus points in consecutive games for the first time in 62 years.
Like Griffin, Wilson is a running quarterback. He has turned the read option into the most exciting play in football.
But Wilson, unlike Griffin, has the ability to avoid the big hits. He knows how much yardage he can get before an ill-intentioned safety arrives. He understands how important the next play is.
Because of that Wilson has played every significant snap this season. Griffin hasn’t. And no rookie is playing better than Wilson right now.
Sunday’s game with the San Francisco 49ers is intriguing for many reasons. It will be the perfect measuring stick for Wilson, who had his worst game of the season at San Francisco.
And it will also be a showcase for 21st century quarterbacks. Both Wilson and the Niners’ Colin Kaepernick are running quarterbacks who also happen to have rifle arms. They’re practically reinventing the position.
This is a can’t-wait-for-Sunday kind of week.
And it’s a chance for Wilson, again in prime time, to state his case to be NFL Rookie of the Year.