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Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson form one formidable duo
Falcons 27, Seahawks 21. Third-and-5 from the Atlanta 27-yard line. Forty-four seconds left in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon blitzed up the gut and had Russell Wilson all but in his grasp. That’s when the Seahawks’ rookie quarterback whirled away from the defender – as he had so many times this season – to get free and drop a pass to running back Marshawn Lynch who powered his way to the 3-yard line.
“That had sack written all over it,” former Baltimore Ravens coach Bill Billick, now an analyst for Fox TV, said during the replay.
Instead, Wilson and Lynch found a way to rewrite the play, setting up Lynch’s 1-yard touchdown that would give the Seahawks a 28-27 lead – even if it was one they couldn’t hold as the Falcons won 30-28 on a last-second field goal.
But that single play from a season that included 974 offensive plays during the regular season, and another 134 in the postseason, is the perfect example of why Lynch and Wilson are the Seahawks’ co-MVPs for the just concluded 2012 season.
Co-MVPs? It’s a first time in the 30-some seasons I’ve been handing out postseason awards. It never happened in the 23 seasons that the players voted for the honor, something that was discontinued after the 1998 season.
But it’s the right thing to do this season.
Picking one over the other would be like Lady without the GaGa. Mac without the cheese. Coach Pete Carroll without general manager John Schneider. You could justify picking either Lynch or Wilson, but that wouldn’t make it the right choice.
Just look at what these two did, which propelled the team to what it did – the third-highest victory total (11) in franchise history during the regular season; the club’s first road playoff victory since 1983; that three-game surge in December where the Seahawks scored 150 points, something that hadn’t been done in the NFL since 1950; a six-game winning streak, the third-longest in franchise behind the 2005 (11) and 1984 (eight) teams. And on and on.
Lynch compiled career-highs in rushing yards (1,590), per-carry average (5.0) and 100-yard games (11), and finished third in the NFL in rushing with a yardage total that also ranks as the third-highest in franchise history. In the postseason, he added another 100-yard effort and scored the game-winning TD in the wild-card victory over the Washington Redskins and then scored what should have been the game-winner against the Falcons.
While Wilson was growing into his role during the first half of the season, it was Lynch’s legs that powered the offense while operating behind a constantly improving line which featured the Pro Bowl duo of left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger.
“He’s a ferocious competitor and he’s got extraordinary explosion – he explodes off of tackles,” Carroll said. “And he’s so strong. You notice how he runs with his feet apart. He’s got such an amazing base that he doesn’t get knocked down easily. He just doesn’t go down easily.
“That means he’s alive, and you really have to finish off the tackles to get him down. He’s remarkably tough to get down.”
Opponents noticed, and then some.
“He’s a great back after contact,” Falcons safety Williams Moore said last week. “It’s hard to get him down. If you look at him on film, most of his big plays are made after contact. One guy is not going to bring him down. It’s important this week to gang-tackle him.”
It was Lynch’s physical presence and Wilson’s knack for running it that allowed the zone-read option to become such a productive factor during the second half of the season. In a two-game span in December, they produced the three highest single-game rushing averages in franchise history – 11.6 by Lynch against the Arizona Cardinals and 11.3 against the Buffalo Bills; and 10.2 by Wilson against the Bills, when he ran for 52 yards while scoring three TDs and was not touched.
While Lynch’s pounding presence was the metronome that allowed the Seahawks to set franchise records for rushing yards (2,579) and per-game average (161.2), Wilson’s steady improvement helped shove the offense into warp speed down the stretch.
He passed for 26 touchdowns during the regular season to tie the NFL rookie record set by Peyton Manning in 1998, and added three more in the postseason. He ran for those three TDs against the Bills and passed for four the following week in the rout of the NFC West champion and NFC Championship game-bound San Francisco 49ers. Wilson’s passer rating of 100.0 during the regular season broke the NFL rookie record that was set by Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 – and also surpassed this season by the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (102.4). And Wilson’s rating in the postseason was even higher (102.4). He also set a franchise QB record by rushing for 489 yards.
“We can talk about Russell Wilson forever because there is so much to talk about,” Carroll said on Monday during his season postmortem. “But it’s not just his way of going about it; it’s his ability to play on game day. He’s got so many characteristics that are so positive. But put him out on the field on game day and he’s a baller. He’s a real football player that nothing fazes him and he can function in any setting.”
Like the setting Wilson walked into last May. The Seahawks already has signed QB Matt Flynn in free agency. They still had incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson. But it was Wilson who won the starting job, and won over his teammates in the process. When it was time to vote of the Steve Largent Award that has been awarded annually since 1989 to the player who “best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks,” the winner was the kid QB.
“Our future is as bright as our quarterback’s future,” is the way defensive end Red Bryant put it on Monday. “And that means it’s pretty bright. He did a tremendous job. As a rookie, to come in and be able to demand that kind of respect from older men like myself and (nose tackle Brandon) Mebane and Clem (defensive end Chris Clemons), it speaks volumes for the future of the Seahawks. They did a great job when they got him.”
And paired him with Lynch. The kid and the dude. The bash and the flash. They formed a 1-2 punch that produced co-MVPs.