Thanks to a groin injury sustained in Seattle's season opener, linebacker Bobby Wagner spent his Monday night like most football fans, watching the Seahawks play the Chicago Bears on TV with his friends.
Wagner watched Seattle's 24-17 loss to the Bears with K.J. Wright, who was out with a knee injury, as well as Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor, who both were unable to return from neck injuries sustained in 2017. And like any other fan, Wagner occasionally caught himself yelling at the TV as if that might alter events taking place 1,700 miles away.
"It sucked to sit there and watch the team play and not be able to do anything," Wagner said prior to taking part in practice for the second straight day, a strong indicator that he will play Sunday. "… I'm definitely a guy that yells at the TV. You call out plays and think that they're going to hear you say what you called out. I was watching it with Cliff and Kam and those guys, so we were all just yelling at the screen, it was fun."
It was difficult for Wagner, who hadn't missed a game since 2015, to be a spectator on Monday night, but as last year taught him, playing in every game, regardless of injuries, isn't always the best thing for him or the team. While playing at a level that had people talking about him as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Wagner injured his hamstring midway through last season and played through it for a while without issue, but he eventually aggravated the injury in Seattle's Week 14 game at Jacksonville. Despite having to come out of that game, Wagner made it back the following week to start against the Rams, though he can now admit that might not have been the best idea.
"I just had to trust the trainers," Wagner said. "Last year I kind of was in the same situation when it came to my hamstring and I can't necessarily say that I trusted the trainers in that situation, and it kind of lingered for the last eight games. It wasn't something that I wanted to do again, so I made the grown-up decision and did the right thing this time.
"I just don't like missing games, I don't like watching. I felt like (last year's hamstring injury) was something that I could manage, and I can deal with and I wanted to be out there for my teammates and I felt like I could help. I felt like I fared pretty well up until the Jacksonville game. I think that's when it really got worse and then it kind of lingered into the Rams game, which, you know, if you watched the film you can see that. Kind of dealing with that, I just didn't want to do that again. I was smarter this time, I feel great and I'm excited to get out there."
After being held out of last week's game, Wagner says he's feeling even better now than he did before the injury, and his return comes at a good time as the Seahawks are about to host the Dallas Cowboys and Pro-Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott.
"Zeke's one of the best running backs in the game," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "He's tough. He can run the ball really well. He's physical. I know Bobby will do everything he can to make sure he brings him down pretty quickly."
Yet as happy as everyone will be to see the three-time first-team All-Pro linebacker back on the field Sunday, it's also worth noting how well his replacement, Austin Calitro, played while filling those big shoes, recording a team-high nine tackles on what was a strong overall performance for the defense.
"I was very impressed," Wagner said of Calitro's first NFL start. "Especially after that first drive, I felt like everybody was making their tackles, especially A.C. Austin, he did a great job. There was a part in the game where you kind of picked the sound up (on TV) and you hear him making the calls and things like that. Just to see the command that he had was pretty cool to see. I was excited when they were on the field."
And after an 0-2 start, Wagner, like the rest of his teammates, know now is the time to get the season going in the right direction. Wagner is confident the Seahawks can do just that, both because of the talent he sees around him in Seattle's locker room, and because he has been in the NFL long enough to know that a fast start doesn't guarantee playoff success, just as a slow start doesn't rule it out.
"I'm not going to give no cliché, you don't want to be 0-3," Wagner said. "We're definitely going to come out—I look at it as we're coming back home; you want to win every game at home. This is our first opportunity to be at home and give our crowd something to cheer for. We're going to come out, we're going to do our thing, I'm not worried about it. Through my career, we've started all type of ways. We started really good, we started 1-4. We started all types of ways, it really doesn't matter, which is why we've been successful towards the end of the season. I think it's just that mindset of understanding it's a long season. Understanding that there's a lot of teams that start hot and don't finish that way. You would rather be the team that starts slow but finishes fast than the team that starts 7-0 but doesn't make the playoffs.
"I think that we're close. I do think that we have a lot of pieces in place. We've just got to grind, we've got to work. This is not going to be easy. I think that's what the young guys are learning, this game is not easy. Nobody's just going to roll over and let you win because you have Seahawks in your name, and so we have to just bring it."
The Seahawks and Cowboys face off on Thursday Night Football, Nov. 30, 2023. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Cowboys.