SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Bobby Wagner wasn't able to practice last week due to a hamstring injury. But while that injury kept him off the practice field, it didn't keep him from being one of the best players at Levi's Stadium Sunday, helping lead the Seahawks to a 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
With the Seahawks offense struggling to get going in the first half, Wagner made one of the biggest plays of the game to help Seattle take an early lead, ripping a pass out of the hands of 49ers receiver Trent Taylor as the two players went to the ground, giving the All-Pro middle linebacker his second interception of the season. That play gave the offense the ball at San Francisco's 16-yard line, and two plays later, Russell Wilson scored on a 2-yard run to give the Seahawks a lead they would never give up.
Wagner's explanation of the play was pretty simple—and comical—noting that he saw Taylor hadn't fully secured the ball, so he took it.
"He was kind of bobbling it around, so I was like, well might as well take it from him since he didn't want it," Wagner said.
But the interception was anything but simple or routine.
"It was an extraordinary play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know how the heck it happened, really. A really great, heads-up play… I don't even know how he did it. It's an extraordinary play, you just don't see stuff like that happen. But he's a remarkable athlete. The timing, hand-eye, all that kind of stuff, he's a remarkable athlete, so he figured out a way to do it like few guys could do."
Added fellow linebacker K.J. Wright: "He's just on fire. That play he made on 81, I've never seen an interception like that. For him to not practice all week and come out there and have the game he did was just extraordinary."
While the interception was the biggest play Wagner made, it was hardly the only one in a dominant defensive performance. Wagner finished the game with a team-high eight tackles, and had two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and one pass defensed. Those eight tackles give him 100 this season, meaning he has now reached that mark in every season of his six-year NFL career.
"It's fantastic," Carroll said. "He's an incredible player. He did not practice this week, it was only workouts with the trainers. To come through and have another big game, a significant game with the play of the game for the defense, it's just the way he has been doing it. He's a great football player and has demonstrated extraordinary consistency, and here again another 100 tackle season, it's amazing."
Wagner often talks about how important consistency is to him, so to reach that 100-tackle mark yet again was meaningful.
"It means a lot," said Wagner, who is now up to 745 career tackles with five games still to play this season. "I talk about consistency all the time. I just want to be player who, whenever I'm done, people look back and say, 'He was very consistent and very productive.' That's kind of an unwritten goal for me to reach that point each year. It's good, but there's more to be done.
"It's just wanting to be great, wanting to understand, trying to be better, not being satisfied with what I've done. I just keep pushing forward. I feel like each year you can grow, each year you can get better, you can find something in your game. I feel like that's how players like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, all those guys, they lasted so long—they never were satisfied with what they were doing at that moment."
Despite leading the NFL with 167 tackles last year on his way to first-team All-Pro honors, and being named first-team All-Pro in 2014 as well, Wagner thinks this might be his best season yet, and the numbers back that up. With five games left, beating last year's tackle mark would be tough, though not impossible, but he could top his second-best total of 140 in 2012, and with 76 solo tackles, he's on pace to set a career high in that category (he had 87 as a rookie). His two interceptions are one short of a career best, he has a sack in the end zone for a safety, and he returned a fumble for a touchdown earlier this season. As was the case last season, teammates say Wagner needs to be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
"He should definitely be in the conversation for (defensive) MVP," Wright said.
Defensive end Michael Bennett noted that on a team full of players having great seasons, Wagner stands out as one of the NFL's best.
"Bobby's having an outstanding season," Bennett said. "Earl (Thomas)'s having a great season. Russell's having an outstanding season, Doug (Baldwin), so there's a lot of guys having great seasons, and Bobby is one of the best in the NFL right now."
Added Wilson: "Bobby Wagner is the best in the business at what he does, and he's been that for years."
Carroll called Wagner's 2017 season thus far, "as good as a defensive player can have. He's on top of everything. He's great at the running game, he's great at the pass game, he's a fantastic rusher. He's as good as you can hope for. He's having a great season."
But as great as Wagner has been this season and as impressive as his performance was Sunday, it wasn't surprising considering how long he has been playing at this level.
"That was extremely impressive," Baldwin said when asked about the interception. "But that's to be expected from a guy like Bobby. He makes plays all over the field in the run game and the passing game, so no surprise there.
"I couldn't be happier for him just the way he plays, the tenacity and the commitment he has to guys in this locker room. It's not surprising that he's having the success that he's having this year."
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 24-13 victory over the 49ers in Week 12 at Levi's Stadium.