GLENDALE, Ariz. – A lot of guys wouldn’t be playing through what Russell Wilson is playing through.
Wilson won’t say it. The Seattle Seahawks’ dynamic quarterback just keeps insisting that he feels great, that he can run the ball when he needs to, that he was always getting treatment even before the ankle and knee injuries he suffered early this season.
There’s a certain nobility in that, even if his cover’s blown the moment he tries to do Russell Wilson things – or the moment he doesn’t, which is probably where Wilson’s striking lack of mobility showed up most in Sunday night’s 6-all tie against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Sometimes, you might play a whole season with some knicks and some knacks. That’s what makes it tough,” Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse told USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t know how (Wilson) specifically feels, but it might be one of those for him. It might be one of those seasons where he’s got the grind to it. But I feel like he’s still playing at a high level.”
To be sure, Wilson is playing solid football under the circumstances, throwing one interception through six games and extending his consecutive starts streak since entering the NFL to 70 games (80 including playoffs) in ways that would make the legendarily durable Brett Favre proud.
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh stepped awkwardly on Wilson’s heel in Week 1, causing a high right ankle sprain. A horse collar tackle from San Francisco 49ers linebacker Eli Harold in Week 3 yielded a sprained medial collateral ligament in Wilson’s left knee. Those are significant injuries that don’t just go away.
Wilson was listed as a full participant in practice each day last week, but that’s really testament to his commitment to rehab and Favre-like “got to go” mentality. And for a player whose legs and creativity on the move have always been weapons, it’s a big deal.
“It is a factor,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Wilson’s limited mobility, “but he played his heart out. I don’t know how much harder you can ask a guy to play. He’s not making any yards running – just look at the stats.”
Wilson ran just once against the Cardinals on Sunday: a third-and-1 keeper that lost 2 yards on Seattle’s opening drive, leading to the first of nine consecutive Seahawks punts before a blocked punt in Arizona territory set up a field goal late in the third quarter. This season, Wilson has 22 rush attempts for 33 yards. His career low for rushing yards in any other season is 489.
More than that, Wilson doesn’t seem willing or able to step up through his creases. He looks jittery at times in the pocket, seemingly conscious that he can’t extend plays like he’d want to. On third-and-25 in the fourth quarter Sunday, Wilson made a backhand flip to running back C.J. Prosise instead of running himself – a play he insisted he’d make even if 100% healthy.
“I feel fine. You guys keep asking me. I feel great,” Wilson said. “There’s times where some games, I run, scramble and make a play. Sometimes, I don’t, and that’s whether I’m healthy or not.”
Again, that’s a noble stance, but it’s not reality for a Seahawks offense that’s grasping at an identity. They had less than 100 net yards until midway through the fourth quarter Sunday, padding their stats – and those of Wilson, who finished 24-of-37 passing for 225 yards – in overtime when both defenses seemed gassed.
Asked if he has an idea when Wilson might be himself again, Carroll said: “Come on now, what timetable would I go on? He is busting his tail to do everything he can, he is giving his total heart and soul every time he goes and he is playing in the NFL doing pretty darn good football teams.
“I’m amazed that he has done what he’s done in this early part of the season, and he’s getting better. He came out of this game feeling better, so there will come a time, and you’ll know. It will be really obvious.”
What’s obvious now is Wilson is doing everything he can to be that guy, but he’s not, and the Seahawks have to make the best of it.
“When he has the ability to move, it is different, because he can extend plays and get explosive runs with his feet,” Kearse said. “But it’s part of the adversity we’ve got to go through. He’s doing a great job of dealing with it and continuing to just try to get healthy, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.