Playing professional baseball is not a guaranteed predictor of success for NFL quarterbacks, or Chris Weinke would have been to many Pro Bowls.
But there’s something about Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson that make it obvious that he learned from baseball, even if he didn’t succeed at it.
He was a hit on the football field Sunday night, leading an efficient 42-13 thrashing of the 49ers to clinch a playoff berth. Wilson completed 15-of-21 passes for 171 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception.
To watch him, you’d wonder if he had ever been bad at anything. But he had plenty of experience during his time on the diamond.
In his final year in the minors, he struck out 82 times in 236 plate appearances, hitting a meager .228. But there’s a quality about his game now that shows he learned the lesson from baseball, namely the perpetual quality of the game. You swing, you miss, you come back the next day, you take another hack.
Wilson’s not being asked to do the things other quarterbacks are doing. But over the course of this season, you can tell Wilson is learning more and more, getting better in small increments.
That sounds obvious, but it’s a process that takes incredible maturity in a sport where quarterbacks are conditioned to success, and often not used to ever having failed when they get to the NFL.
Wilson has struggled. He’s pushed through. And the Seahawks are enjoying the lessons learned now.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. There are folks who prefer head coaches with a defensive background, because at a philosophical level, defensive coaches are problem solvers while offensive coaches are problem creators.
In the case of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, the former quarterback made things more difficult on himself than they had to be.
Running back Frank Gore had five carries for 10 yards in the first half. The first number is far more important than the second. Any plan built to play the Seahawks defense in the rain in their own stadium that only features five attempts by one of the league’s top backs was a bad plan.
It’s just football. It doesn’t have to be that hard.
2. That said, it’s getting harder and harder for defensive players to know what they’re supposed to do.
Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver on the play that knocked 49ers tight end Vernon Davis out of the game with a concussion.
Chancellor hit Davis in the chest. With his shoulder pads. Hard.
The flag is doubtless a result of an “err on the side of caution,” approach by the refs, which they’ve been told to employ in the name of player safety.
But those rules were incorrectly applied this time, and Chancellor was flagged because his hit was too good, and sounded too big.
3. There are more exciting open-field running backs than Marshawn Lynch.
But I am not sure how many I’d prefer if I had to have a short-yardage conversion.
Lynch is one of the most efficient backs in the league, because he truly believes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Whether there are opponents in that path matters not.
4. Overreacting to the 49ers loss this week will be as wrong as overreacting to last week’s win over the Patriots.
Though they were thrashed soundly, they’re still a dangerous team. But last week’s win, after which many were ready to crown them, featured many troubling signs (like quarterback Colin Kaepernick playing a little loose with the ball, and not fielding snaps cleanly).
The injuries to Davis and wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee) limited and could continue to limit their offense, and for a quarterback who is still learning on the fly, and doesn’t have much to draw on, it’s a hard spot to be in.
5. Any suggestion that 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks this season, none this week) should have been considered for defensive player of the year honors went out the window the moment defensive tackle Justin Smith left the field last week with an elbow injury, and was confirmed against the Seahawks.
They ran straight at him, and the vacancy Justin Smith left.
Aldon Smith is still very talented, and has to be game-planned for. But without his bodyguard, he’s not nearly as effective.