We’d never seen this before, a playoff Sunday with three rookie quarterbacks starting, and if you were hoping for one of them to put up spectacular passing numbers, you turned off your TV feeling disappointed. But one of those three rookie quarterbacks, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, was anything but a disappointment.
It really is amazing, thinking back over the last year, to consider that Wilson now stands head and shoulders above the rest of this year’s fantastic class of rookie quarterbacks. Andrew Luck, the can’t-miss prospect drafted first overall by the Colts, had a phenomenal rookie season that came to an end with a tough loss to the Ravens. Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner drafted second overall by the Redskins, hobbled around on a bad knee against the Seahawks until it buckled underneath him and he limped off the field, ending his own phenomenal rookie season.
But there’s Wilson, the allegedly too-short quarterback drafted 75th overall by the Seahawks, still alive heading into the divisional round, where he’ll lead the Seahawks against the Falcons next weekend. And Wilson was better than either of his fellow rookies on Sunday, completing 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, and adding 67 rushing yards on eight carries.
Wilson was good all season, but he really arrived on Sunday. It’s not just that he’s got the arm and the feet to threaten any NFL defense, it’s the way he commands an offense and leads a football team. It’s the way he runs out in front to throw blocks to spring Marshawn Lynch for big gains. It’s the way he knows when to tuck the ball under his arm and take off running, and when to stay in the pocket and scan the field for an open receiver. It’s also the way he knows — and this is important — when to take a sack and when to throw the ball away when there are no plays to make, as he wisely did a few times on Sunday.
I don’t know how Wilson will compare to Luck and Griffin when we’ve had several years to compare their careers, but I do know this: Russell Wilson has arrived as a legitimate NFL star. Not bad for a rookie who was supposed to be too short.
Wilson was my favorite player on the field Sunday. Here are some other observations:
Line judge Mark Perlman made the call of the playoffs. Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice made a sensational 27-yard catch along the sideline in the second quarter, but the first official on the play ruled that Rice didn’t get his feet down inbounds. Perlman was the official who correctly came in and overruled his colleague, calling it a catch. The NFL uses all-star officiating crews during the playoffs, meaning these officials haven’t been working together all season, and sometimes postseason officiating is criticized because the officials don’t work well together as a unit. But Perlman did his job perfectly on that play.
We narrowly missed one of the all-time great playoff moments. When Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter, it bounced right into the arms of Ray Lewis, playing in Baltimore for the last time. It would have been an easy interception, and given how much daylight he had in front of him, Lewis might have taken it back for a touchdown. That would have been an amazing way for Lewis to go out in style in Baltimore, but unfortunately he dropped the pass. “I’ll never live that down,” Lewis said after the game. Actually, everyone in Baltimore will gladly overlook it. But it would have been some great moment.
The Colts need to revamp their offensive line. It was amazing how often Luck would take the snap, drop back and have three Ravens in his face before he could set his feet in the pocket. The offensive line has been a major problem for the Colts all season, and it’s a testament to Luck’s toughness that he managed to stay healthy the entire year. Luck is going to be a great quarterback for a long time, but the Colts can’t let him get killed back there.
Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton had my favorite play of the day. With the Colts facing third-and-26 with 12 seconds left in the first half, Luck found Hilton open about 20 yards downfield. Luck’s throw was too high, but Hilton leapt up and caught it, then raced past three Ravens defenders (picking up a nice block from tight end Coby Fleener) to get the first down and then get out of bounds with three seconds left, setting up Adam Vinatieri’s 52-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Who says fullbacks are dead? The fullback position isn’t used as often in NFL offenses as it once was, but all four teams that won this weekend got key plays from fullbacks. Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson and Ravens fullback Vontae Leach both scored touchdowns on Sunday. Packers fullback John Kuhn scored two touchdowns on Saturday. And Texans fullback James Casey had a 20-yard catch and also did an outstanding job as a lead blocker for Arian Foster in the weekend’s first playoff game.
Reggie Wayne is building his Hall of Fame resume. It should come as a surprise to no one that the NFL record for all-time postseason catches is owned by Jerry Rice. But I bet a lot of people will be surprised to learn that Colts receiver Reggie Wayne is No. 2. Rice had 151 catches in his 29 career playoff games, a record that may never be broken. But on Sunday Wayne played his 18th career postseason game, and his nine catches against the Ravens moved him ahead of Michael Irvin and Hines Ward, into second place on the all-time playoff receiving list, with 92.
The story of the day is the injury suffered by Robert Griffin III. A day that started with a report that the Redskins had disregarded medical advice to rush Griffin onto the field ended with Griffin exiting with a knee injury. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has to be regretting his decision to let Griffin play on a bad knee. Here’s hoping bad knees don’t slow Griffin’s progress. We should be seeing him square off with Wilson in the NFC playoffs for years to come.