PHILADELPHIA—With the game on the line, the Seahawks got aggressive on third down one final time, and as he had done all evening, Russell Wilson delivered.
Correctly guessing that the Eagles, who were trying to get the ball back to their offense to give them a chance to tie it, would dial up an aggressive defense on third-and-10, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called a play the Seahawks had been practicing all week for just this occasion, and Wilson delivered yet another beautifully thrown deep ball that DK Metcalf hauled in for a game-clinching 36-yard reception.
Instead of having to punt the ball back to the Eagles with more than a minute and a half left in the game, Wilson took a knee three times, and the Seahawks walked off of the field as 17-9 victors over the Eagles, a win that sends them to the divisional round of the playoffs where they'll play at Green Bay on Sunday.
"The execution at the end, that was something we were looking for," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We worked on it all week. The call from Schotty, the adjustment by Russ, the whole part of pulling off the execution of that. Then exquisite throw and catch. That's as pretty as football can look right there. And at the most crucial time. It was just memorable… We were ready for it all week, knowing that they would be taking some chances on us to try to get the back in the situation. It gave us an opportunity to go after them with the coverage that they had. We had to pick up the pressure that they brought. We worked exactly on that during the week. So the opportunity was there. Schotty said, 'Do you want to take that opportunity?' Heck, yeah, let's go. That's what we've been practicing. They did it exactly the way it was supposed to happen. That's really because of the preparation, really good foresight by the coaches to come up with the idea and the thought for that moment. So the belief was there to go ahead and call what would otherwise look like a really risky call; we worked our way through it, so it wasn't. It was just something we planned on doing and he did it perfectly."
It was fitting that Wilson's final throw of the game was a successful deep shot to Metcalf, not just because it capped a phenomenal day for the rookie receiver, who set a franchise postseason record with 160 yards and a touchdown on seven catches, but also because it was one final big gain on third-and-long on an evening that was full of them for Wilson and the Seahawks offense.
"Really that is what kept us going," Carroll said. "And the big conversions, big, big plays by Russ. I thought Russ was spectacular tonight in moving around and finding guys when we really needed it in crucial situations.
"His running was spectacular. His movement was great. There's three or four big plays that he made on the move, creating space for the guys to get open, our guys finishing on the routes. That was really beautiful football. That's what Russ gives you. He gives you those extra shots. He found them tonight, came through with some great passes."
On a day where the Eagles prioritized stopping the run and did a good job of that—Seattle's running backs gained only 19 yards on 17 carries—the Seahawks needed a big game from Wilson, and he delivered in a big way.
Against a defense that held him to 200 yards and a 75.4 passer rating in Seattle's Week 12 win in Philadelphia, Wilson had a much better day this time around, completing 18 of 30 attempts for 325 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 108.3 rating. Wilson was also Seattle's leading rusher, gaining 45 yards on nine carries—and it was 48 yards on just six carries before his three kneel-downs at the end of the game.
"Russ was outstanding, man," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "He just made some big play, third-and-15, scrambling, getting out of the pocket, doing what he always does. That last play just signified his Hall of Fame career. He's just a guy that's so consistent, so poised, he can just make something out of nothing. I just love him and I'm glad he's my quarterback."
Wright was asked on Thursday about his team's confidence heading on the road for the postseason, and he first pointed to Seattle's success on the road all season—the Seahawks were 7-1 away from home in the regular season—but then he also stated the obvious about having a great player at the most important position in the game.
"If you've got Russell back there at quarterback, you've got a great chance of winning," Wright said.
That proved to be an incredibly prescient statement for Wright. The defense more than did its part, keeping the Eagles out of the end zone for the entire game, but on offense the Seahawks needed Wilson to come through, and he came through with a huge game despite the offense missing three of its five starting offensive linemen, its top three running backs, its No. 1 tight end and two of its top five receivers.
Said left tackle George Fant, "I'm telling you, he's the best player in the league. He makes a lot of great plays for us. You're never out of the game with him. It's a blessing to have him. He made a lot of great plays tonight."
As Fant notes, Wilson made a lot of great plays all night, but he was particularly deadly on third down, helping the Seahawks convert 8 of 15 third-down chances—it was 8 for 14 before the final kneel-down. And it wasn't that Seattle's offense was repeatedly converting on third-and-short, they were converting in difficult situations. The struggles in the running game, along with some penalties, led to a lot of third-and-long situations that should have been low-percentage plays for Seattle, but instead Wilson kept burning an aggressive Eagles defense.
Despite facing pressure that led to 11 quarterback hits, Wilson completed passes for 24 yards on third-and-11, 26 yards on third-and-4, 38 yards on third-and-10, 20 yards on third-and-1, 19 yards on third-and-10, and 36 yards on the final third-and-10. Add Wilson's 18-yard run on third-and-15, and that's five conversions of third-and-10 or longer. Over the course of the game, seven of Seattle's 10 longest plays came on third down.
Wilson was 8 for 12 on third down for 177, with seven of those completions gaining first downs, good for a 14.7 yards-per-attempt average on third down, and he also had the aforementioned 18-yard run on third-and-15.
"We were huge on third down," Wilson said. "To win this game, to win playoff games, to win any game, really—championship moments like this—you have to be great on third down. We were converting. We were hanging in there, guys did a great job of protecting. I was able to sit in the pocket a little bit and move a little bit and find guys late across the middle. So that was huge."
Said Metcalf, whose spectacular postseason debut included a 53-yard touchdown catch, "Russ is Russ, man. A game is never over, a play is never over when he's back there at quarterback. I've seen him convert a third-and-13 running the ball. He's a great competitor, a great leader out there; Bobby (Wagner) as well, the way they compete and just fight every play."
Game action photos from the Seattle Seahawks' Wild Card matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.