Here, the tendency is to view any Eagles loss through one prism and one prism only: one that’s tinted green and white. What didn’t the Eagles do? What did they do wrong? What could they and should they have done better or differently? What went against them? Russell Wilson nullified most, if not all, of those questions Sunday night. Even without Carson Wentz, even after Jadeveon Clowney concussed Wentz with a helmet-to-helmet hit that warranted a penalty but didn’t draw one, the Eagles had a chance to win this wild-card game. Except Wilson, time after time, wouldn’t let them. He was that good. He is that good.
“He can do some magical things out there,” Seahawks guard D.J. Fluker said.
He did a lot of them, from the beginning of the Seahawks’ 17-9 victory to the last pass he threw, that 36-yard rainbow to DK Metcalf, on third-and-10 from the Seattle 11 with just 97 seconds left in regulation. Wilson needed just 18 completions to throw for 325 yards, his mobility serving as a catalyst to break down the Eagles’ secondary and create openings for his receivers and throwing lanes for him. He rushed for another 45 yards, and time after time, when it appeared the Eagles were poised to push the Seahawks’ offense off the field, he extended a drive through a marvelous individual effort.
Third-and-11, second-and-18, third-and-4, third-and-10, second-and-11, third-and-15, third-and-10: Wilson converted first downs in each of those situations.
“Probably the story of the game, really,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, and he was right. If Josh McCown — 40 years old, playing in his first postseason game, playing in a game after Dec. 15 for the first time since 2014 — performed about as well as could be expected for a guy who had originally planned to analyze the NFL for ESPN this season, Wilson demonstrated what the Eagles lost once Wentz went down, walked slowly to the locker room, and never returned.
A 22-yard scramble, a 38-yard pinpoint completion on the move to David Moore, an 18-yard scramble: McCown did what he could Sunday night, but he wasn’t making those plays. Wentz can. Wilson could. Wilson did. It’s a credit to the Eagles’ guts and will that they stayed with the Seahawks on Sunday, that they were in striking distance the entire game, but understand: If Wilson had left the game under similar circumstances to Wentz’s, the Seahawks would have been in far worse shape than the Eagles were without Wentz. That’s not a criticism or a diminishment of Wentz. That’s a compliment to Wilson.
The Seahawks’ backup quarterback is Geno Smith, who lacks McCown’s savvy and experience, and it took Seattle coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer two-and-a-half quarters to figure out that the Eagles’ cornerbacks struggled to cover the deep ball, to start sending Metcalf and Tyler Lockett downfield. If anything, the Seahawks’ play-calling — their insistence on running the ball as often as they did Sunday, with Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch — limited the damage that Wilson could do to the Eagles. As it was, he did more than enough.
“Russ is a very poised guy,” Fluker said. “He doesn’t let things get to him. He doesn’t let pressure get to him. He’s a competitor; that’s what he is. If there’s pressure, he’s getting out of it. He’s a magician. That’s what he is — literally an escape artist. He’s very special.”
What if Wilson had been forced to leave Sunday’s game, as Wentz had?
“He’s one of the best guys to ever do it,” Fluker said. “It would hurt, but I know Russ. He’d be like, ‘Hey, Geno, time to step up. Let me get you the play calls in.’ Russ is not just a player. He’s a coach. He coaches us, too, to do better, even on route-running. Having a guy like that, man, it’s amazing.”
Take that final completion — the throw to Metcalf that sent everyone at Lincoln Financial Field trudging to the exits. Wilson knew, he said, that the Eagles would be in a man-to-man, cover-zero defense. He trusted Metcalf to beat his man, just as Metcalf had done on his 53-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter. It was a one-score game still, and it was a daring play to try in that situation. Wilson’s throw was perfect, and Metcalf tracked it like a Gold Glove centerfielder.
A few minutes later, after the Eagles’ season was over, Wilson found Pederson at midfield and asked him if Wentz was OK. It could have been a terrific duel between two of the NFL’s most thrilling quarterbacks Sunday. Yeah, could have been.
“It was tough to see Carson go down,” Wilson said. “He’s been such a tremendous football player for them and had a great year. I didn’t really know what the status was fully. To be honest, I thought Josh came in and did a great job, too. I kind of joked with him after: ‘How young are you?’ Because he was moving around, making throws. It shows you how important that position is.”
Yes, backup quarterback is an important position. But there’s another that’s more important, and the Seahawks had the advantage there Sunday, all night. Because of one cruel moment, and because of one great player.