ATLANTA — Seattle began this season trying to win despite starting a rookie at quarterback.
On Sunday, the Seahawks were less than a minute from reaching the NFC Championship Game because of him.
Russell Wilson completed his first 10 passes in the second half, threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another. He threw for 385 yards, not only the most for a Seahawk in a playoff game but the most ever for an NFL rookie in the postseason.
“He is an amazing football player,” coach Pete Carroll said afterward. “He proved himself again and again. It is undeniable that you look at anything he did and put a star on it.”
Wilson outplayed Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who had three touchdowns but was intercepted twice, including one painfully poor choice of a throw in the fourth quarter that safety Earl Thomas picked off.
Wilson was Seattle’s metronome, the one thing the Seahawks could rely on in a game that included too many wasted opportunities and missed tackles. Wilson led four touchdown drives in his team’s first five second-half possessions, giving Seattle a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds to play.
That lead lasted only 23 seconds, but that didn’t change how impressive Seattle’s offense was. Atlanta was supposed to be the more explosive team, yet the Seahawks outgained the Falcons, 491 yards to 417.
Wilson had 36 pass attempts, more than any game this season other than the overtime victory in Chicago.
He carried seven times for 60 yards in a performance that made sure the game went down to the final minute.
“What defined the game was our attitude,” Wilson said. “The way we played, and our resilient focus to play the game at a high level for the rest of the game.
“Anybody watching this game that knows football knows that was an unbelievable comeback, unbelievable game and an unbelievable atmosphere against a very, very good football team in the Atlanta Falcons.”
That comeback was the culmination of a seasonlong progress in which Seattle’s emphasis shifted toward its rookie quarterback.
September is a memory at this point, one that is as distant as it is puzzling that Seattle kept everything dialed down, scoring fewer than 20 points in four of its first five games.
That was part of Carroll’s plan. He wanted to play to the strength of the team, its defense, to let his rookie quarterback progress gradually, especially since he hadn’t been named the starter until 14 days before the regular season.
In December, Wilson had become the focal point of the offense, and not just because he passed for 16 touchdowns while being intercepted only twice over the second half of the season.
And after his season ended Sunday, Wilson had his eyes up, looking ahead before he even reached the locker room.
“Walking off the field, I got so excited for the next opportunity,” he said. “I’m looking forward to what we have in the future.”
It’s a forecast that will start with Wilson.
Record effort from Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson passed for 385 yards in the Seahawks’ loss at Atlanta. It was the most yards passing in a postseason game for a Seahawks quarterback and for any NFL rookie.
Yards Player Opponent, date Result
385 Russell Wilson at Atlanta, Jan. 13, 2013 Loss, 30-28
341 Matt Hasselbeck vs. St. Louis, Jan. 8, 2005 Loss, 27-20
305 Matt Hasselbeck at Green Bay, Jan. 4, 2004 Loss, 33-27 (OT)
297 Dave Krieg at Cincinnati, Dec. 31, 1988 Loss, 21-13
NFL playoffs (rookies)
385 Russell Wilson, Seahawks at Atlanta, Jan. 13, 2013 Loss, 30-28
335 Sammy Baugh, Washington at Chicago, Dec. 12, 1937 Win, 28-21
288 Andrew Luck, Indianapolis at Baltimore, Jan. 6, 2013 Loss, 24-9