In what has been the most productive season of his NFL career, Russell Wilson has a good chance at establishing Seahawks records for both passing yards and touchdowns in Sunday's regular-season finale at Arizona, and he also leads the NFL with a 109.3 passer rating.
Yet one of most impressive numbers for Wilson this season is one the one that hasn't changed. Sunday's game will be Wilson's 16th start of the seasons, continuing a run of starting every game of his career. And that durability and reliability goes beyond games for Wilson, who has never appeared on an injury report or missed an in-season practice.
It only takes a quick look around the league to see how rare and valuable it is to have consistency at one of the most important positions in sports. Charlie Whitehurst played for the Colts last week with Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck injured. A.J. McCarron will likely start a playoff game for an injured Andy Dalton, and Brandon Weeden, who was starting for an injured Tony Romo in Dallas earlier this season, is now starting for Houston as the Texans try to clinch a playoff spot.
Yet even after taking four sacks and 13 quarterback hits in a more-physical-than-usual game for him, Wilson was right back on the practice field Wednesday when the Seahawks began preparation for their next game. Wilson's presence on the field has been so consistent it can almost be taken for granted, but in a league where seasons are derailed by quarterback injuries every season, durability is one of Wilson's greatest traits.
"It's tremendously valuable, and yeah, you do get accustomed to it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's out here today going, and you saw him get hit a little bit last week. He's worked really hard to make sure that he's well for (Wednesday), because he knows it's crucial that he's right and out there doing what he has to do. I hate to think that we would take it for granted, but when he's so steady and so consistent, and he also continues to demonstrate the conscience that's necessary—even though he pushed the limits a little bit last week—to stay healthy and to stay right. We've seen a lot of other young quarterbacks that haven't been able to figure that out. So there's a lot of awareness there, and conscience that's really strong. We're very fortunate to have him, and the way that he's been able to maintain is pretty rare."
Part of Wilson's ability to stay on the field is that awareness that Carroll mentions. While Wilson does run the ball more than a traditional quarterback, seemingly putting himself in harm's way more frequently, he is very adept at knowing when to slide or go out of bounds to avoid the big hits far more often than not.
"He's a good athlete," Carroll said. "He's got some ninja in him or something. He can get out of those hits and he's really great at avoiding getting banged… He has great awareness. That's what you need to stay clear of the big hits."
No amount of awareness is going to keep Wilson from taking some occasional hits, and he's fine with that.
"If I didn't want to get hit, I'd play a different sport," he said.
But taking those hits and making back to practice three days later requires plenty of work. A lot of what keeps Wilson or any football player on the field is the work put in off of it during the offseason. Wilson has learned from veterans ranging from Leon Washington to current teammate Fred Jackson to former quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who he met while training for the NFL scouting combine in 2012, just how important it is to take care of his body.
One key for Wilson, in addition to the usual work like running and lifting weights, is swimming, particularly to work out the soreness on the days after games.
"I get up early in the morning, I swim, that's one of the first things I do," he said. "That helps a lot, and get ready to go… I don't swim every morning. Monday, Tuesday, and then I swam this morning, and ran some on the treadmill. But I love being in the water, in the pool. I think that helps a lot getting your body back. That's a big thing for me."
Whether it's the swimming, ninja skills or lessons from Vinny Testaverde, Wilson has defied the odds and been not just a productive, but incredibly durable quarterback through his first four seasons. So as big of an accomplishment as it will be if Wilson can break Dave Krieg's record of 32 touchdown passes in a season or eclipse Hasselbeck's mark of 3,966 yards on Sunday, it might be just as impressive that he is starting the 64th regular season game of a career that has spanned 64 regular-season games.
"The best thing to do is always be available," Wilson said. "I think that obviously, to not miss practices, to be out there on gameday, that's what I'm here for. Ultimately, whatever it takes. That's kind of the mentality. Try to take care of your mind, body as much as possible throughout the week, get ready to go… I tell you guys all the time, I've got the best job in the world. I really believe that. To be one of 32 men in the world that get to do what I get to do, it's a special, special thing. To get to do it for this organization, I never take that for granted. No practice, no film study, none of it. It's all important to me, every day."