We’re not quite yet to the point where Superman needs to find a phone booth to change into his Russell Wilson costume, but it’s certainly trending that way.
Sunday’s 41 to 38 Seahawks win over Houston was a thrill a minute plane ride that ended with Wilson engineering his 23rd career game winning drive (GWD) for Seattle. NFL stats define such a drive as “an offensive scoring drive in the 4th quarter or overtime that puts the winning team ahead for the last time.”
Wilson ranks 39th all-time and 11th among active quarterbacks which is as good a measure as any to evaluate a quarterback’s skill, toughness, and leadership. 19 of Wilson’s 23 GWDs (including his most recent) were of the comeback variety and he ranks 31st all-time in that stat (12th best active).
(NOTE: Wilson is credited on some lists with an extra comeback drive because the drive he led to tie last year’s Arizona game at 3 in the 4th quarter was, by definition, just that. For that matter, the drive he led to tie the game in OT with a FG was also a comeback drive. However, given that the game ended in a tie, and given the fact no one who watched it wants to relive any of the sordid details of that night, it will be ignored in this missive.)
Wilson is the Seahawks all-time leader in the stat. Matt Hasselbeck and Dave Krieg each had 20 GWDs with the Hawks (and six more with other teams).
But a better way to measure his ranking is to factor in his age. Wilson will turn 29 in November and only three active quarterbacks got their 23rd GWD faster than he did (Matt Stafford of Detroit, Matt Ryan of Atlanta, and Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh). Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay is considered a master at the last minute win but he’s almost five years older than Wilson and has four fewer such wins.
Like many stats, this one can be bent and twisted to make any point you wish to make. A cynic might point out that if the Seahawks were more dominant they wouldn’t find themselves in a position to need so many GWDs. But the top 14 guys on the all-time list are either in the Hall of Fame or are headed that way eventually. It’s also at the top of the list that we get further perspective on where Wilson sits at this point in his career.
Of the leaders only one, Peyton Manning, notched his 23rd GWD quicker than Wilson. Manning is the all-time leader with 56 GWDs (45 of those were comebacks). Tom Brady, Dan Marino, John Elway, and Brett Favre round out the top five and all got their 23rd GWD later than Wilson did.
Wilson has had enough GWDs that fans can be forgiven if they don’t remember all of them. But a few certainly stand out including the first two of his career.
Wilson’s third pro game came on a Monday night in Seattle against Green Bay. The drive that ended with the infamous “Fail Mary” to Golden Tate started with just :46 left on the clock. Wilson was 2 for 6 on the drive; his second completion a 24-yard touchdown to Tate on the game’s final play to lift Seattle to a 14 to 12 win.
Wilson’s second GWD was equally memorable. Just three weeks after the stunning win against Green Bay, Seattle was behind 23 to 17 to New England when the Hawks got the ball with 2:38 to go on their own 43. Wilson had already engineered a drive earlier in the 4th quarter to get the Hawks within striking distance before this four-play 57-yard jaunt that ended with a 46-yard scoring strike to Sidney Rice. The Patriots got one more chance but couldn’t do anything and the game ended with Richard Sherman confronting Tom Brady to inquire “You mad, Bro?”
Wilson’s Houdini act last week was by at least one measurement the second most impressive of his comeback drives. The Seahawks got the ball on their own 20, down four, and with just 1:39 to play. Of all of Wilson’s GWDs/comebacks only his first one against Green Bay started with less time on the clock.
Wilson’s career numbers on these drives (as with any QB who is responsible for a lot of comeback wins) are impressive. He’s 69 for 98 for 1069 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wilson’s ability to find room to run when everything else breaks down has been on display as well. 30 times he’s decided to run (occasionally by design, usually due to desperation) and he’s racked up 239 yards on those plays.
Maybe the Seahawks will eventually string together a series of easy wins that will stall Wilson’s climb up the GWD leaders’ chart. But given that the NFL is the NFL it seems likely he’ll continue to be involved in at least a handful of games each year where he’ll step into the huddle with the Hawks tied or behind, the clock and daylight both fading fast, and a group of teammates looking to him to provide answers.
There will always be games where he doesn’t get it done. But the mounting list of times where he has done the job means his teammates, coaches, and the fans will enter those situations with confidence. Given the thin line that differentiates between winning and losing in pro football, that can be the difference.