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Russell Wilson’s road to improvement began in Charlotte

Posted Sep 7, 2013

The fifth game of Russell Wilson’s rookie season proved to be a turning point, as he helped the Seahawks to a big road win against the Panthers. Wilson and the Seahawks make a return trip for Sunday’s regular-season opener.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the first four games of his rookie season, Russell Wilson already was developing a reputation as a homebody.

In the Seahawks’ two home games – wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers – Wilson had a passer rating of 105.8, as he completed 25 of 41 passes for 281 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

In the Seahawks’ two road games – losses to the Cardinals and Rams in Arizona and St. Louis – his passer rating was 51.0, as Wilson completed 35 of 59 passes for 313 yards with one TD pass and four interceptions.

That’s when coach Pete Carroll approached his quarterback as the team was preparing for a Week 5 game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of American Stadium – the same venue where the Seahawks will open their 2013 season on Sunday, which is 170 miles from where Wilson began his college career at North Carolina State.

“He hadn’t realized, truly, and faced it, ‘Well, I haven’t produced as well on the road,’ ” Carroll said. “It was a conversation during the week leading into this game that I know we had. I said, ‘You realize your numbers are way different when you’ve been at home and on the road?’ You guys (reporters) were writing about it, but he wasn’t paying attention.

“He finally came up and said, ‘I don’t want that to happen anymore.’ Just like he’s changed so many things, he just played like the QB he was at home. And really from that part of the season on, he was very, very good, and realized that it isn’t any different playing on the road than playing at home for him.”

As Wilson is fond of saying, “A hundred yards is a hundred yards.”

And at Bank of America Stadium on that early October afternoon, Wilson went out and played like it. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 221 yards. He threw two interceptions, but also a touchdown pass in the 16-12 victory. His passer rating of 82.3 was almost twice what he had produced against the Rams (45.8) and 20 points higher than what he had against the Cardinals (62.5).

But the real proof of improvement, as Wilson views it, was the offense converting a then-season best 7 of 14 third-down situations.

“I think the biggest thing was just being aware of situations a little bit more,” Wilson said. “Being great on third down, I think that’s the biggest focus that we had going into the game. We were a lot better on third down that game.”

A lot better, after producing third-down conversion percentages of .313 against the Rams (5 of 16); .357 against the Cowboys (5 of 14); .182 against the Packers (2 of 11); and .222 against the Rams (2 of 9).

“We overcame a lot of challenges,” said Wilson, who was 9 of 10 for 73 yards on third downs against the Panthers – including a third-and-8 pass to Golden Tate for the Seahawks’ only touchdown.

“I think that’s the biggest thing. We have to play great on third downs.”

So where did that game rank in the maturing of the rookie quarterback into a productive NFL quarterback?

“I don’t really look at things that way,” Wilson said. “But I think it definitely helps, for sure, to get a huge win on the road. That’s something that we were struggling with before. So to be able to win that game in a tough environment, against a very good football team that was coming though some ups-and-downs themselves, to win that game was good for us.”

Carroll would never put the entire burden on one player, and that is the case with what could be considered Wilson’s turning-point performance here last season.

“Most of that has to do with the entire team and how we played,” Carroll said. “It wasn’t just the quarterback. But I know that he acknowledged the fact that his (road) numbers didn’t matchup to what he had done at home.”

As is usually the case with Wilson, he did more than acknowledge it. He went out and did something about it.

“He just kind of turned it and got going and got us on the move in the second half of the season,” Carroll said.