Russell Wilson woke up early Sunday morning knowing something wasn't right. Whether it was the flu or food poisoning, the Seahawks quarterback wasn't sure, but what Wilson did know was that no amount of discomfort was going to keep him out of Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Five touchdowns and three in-game IVs later, Wilson had completed a performance and a 27th birthday to remember, helping lead the Seahawks to a 39-30 victory with one of the best games of his career.
"I've been up since pretty early this morning," Wilson said when asked about his health. "… I was good last night, then this morning I woke up at 5:45 and it didn't look too good after that."
Wilson, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 345 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions, set a career high in touchdowns, a regular-season career high in yards, and posted a 147.9 passer rating that was the second best of his career.
"Russell played like crazy, he had a fantastic game today," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "His receivers were all over it and did magnificent stuff catching the ball, making plays, making first downs."
Throughout Wilson's career, Plan A for the Seahawks has been to run the ball, play stingy defense, control the clock and come up with enough big plays and points on offense to win, but ideally the Seahawks don't want to put Wilson or the offense in a position of having to put up huge numbers to win. On Sunday, however, Wilson and the offense had to match an explosive Pittsburgh offense score for score, and they were more than up to the challenge.
"Oh, he was in the zone," safety Earl Thomas said. "He was in the zone. I don't know if it was because it's his birthday today, but he was definitely in the zone."
Most impressive for Wilson and the offense was the way they played in two elements of the game that have been troubling at times this season—third down and the red zone. The Seahawks went 4 for 4 in the red zone, and were 7 of 13 on third down, a stat made all the more impressive by the number of third-and-long conversions, which included a 16-yard touchdown to Doug Baldwin on third-and-goal from the 16 and Baldwin's 80-yard touchdown catch and run on third-and-10 that helped clinch the game. On back-to-back touchdown drives in the second quarter, Wilson completed 5 of 5 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown on third down as the Seahawks converted consecutive third downs of 6, 16, 10, 10, and 16 yards.
"I think we might have converted five third-and-10s or more, and that's crazy," Carroll said. "Usually you get one out of five if you're lucky. That was a fantastic job by the guys in protection to give him a chance in those situations. It's not just the throwing; the catching was great, the run after catch was great for us by a number of different guys."
For Wilson, it was a second straight standout performance after playing what was statistically his worst game of the season in Seattle's Week 10 loss to Arizona. Since that game against the Cardinals, Wilson has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions, marking the first time in his career he has had three or more touchdown passes in consecutive games. His five touchdowns passes Sunday also tied a franchise record that has been matched seven times, most recently by Matt Hasselbeck in 2006.
"You could see his focus was a little bit sharper," said Baldwin, who had a career game of his own with six catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. "Not that he wasn't focused before, but you could just see in his eyes that he had that killer instinct like, 'I am going to go out there and do what I've got to do.' That's Russell Wilson—whenever his back is against the wall, he plays his best. I wouldn't count him out for anything."
And in what has been one of the themes of this season for Wilson, he showed continued growth as a pocket passer when the line gave him time to operate in the pocket, which it did throughout the game.
"We've seen that all year," Carroll said. "We sensed it early on that he's been very confident standing in when he gets his time. Against a very difficult defense to protect, our offensive line did a great job to give him the chances. You can see when he's in there, he's really solid. That's an emerging improvement in our football team and it gives us a chance to count on it in games like that when we need him. We've been talking about it, that's legit progress now to see us protect like we did today again."
And while the line deservedly received praise for protecting Wilson, he helped himself in that department too with his ability to recognize Pittsburgh's blitzes and beat them with quick throws.
"He really understood where the blitzes were coming from and he got the ball out of his hand really quick," left tackle Russell Okung said. "When he does that, he's unstoppable."
Wilson was indeed nearly unstoppable Sunday, beating both illness and an aggressive Steelers defense on the way to one of the best games of his career.