Friday in Hawkville: Larry Fitzgerald says it’s ‘surprising’ that Richard Sherman was not voted to the Pro Bowl
KO OLINA, Oahu – Hawkville has moved to Hawaii this week, as six Seahawks are preparing to play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Today, we visited the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa as the NFC and AFC squads stayed “home” to practice:
Richard Sherman. What? The Seahawks’ cornerback isn’t even here. But then, that’s the point.
After intercepting a career-high eight passes during the regular season to tie for second in the NFL, Sherman was voted All-Pro, but not to the Pro Bowl – where the Bears’ duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are the starters for the NFC and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson is the third corner.
So we felt compelled to ask, “What’s up with that?”
“He had a phenomenal year. He really had a breakout year,” Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said today after the NFC’s 15-minute on-field session. “So it is surprising that he’s not here. But I know he’ll have many more moving forward.”
Fitzgerald has gotten to know Sherman quite well the past three times the NFC West rivals have met. In the 2011 season finale in Arizona, Sherman and fellow Seahawks corner Brandon Browner were so physical with Fitzgerald that he was coughing up blood on the sideline. This season, Fitzgerald caught four passes for 63 yards in the opener in the desert, with Sherman intercepting one pass and breaking up another. During the December rematch in Seattle, Sherman intercepted two passes, broke up a third and also recovered a fumble, while Fitzgerald caught one pass for 2 yards – despite being targeted 11 times.
“Hopefully, I won’t contribute to his stats as much in the future,” Fitzgerald said with a laugh.
Kick returner Leon Washington, one of the six Seahawks who are on the NFC squad, can relate to Sherman’s Pro Bowl snub.
“My first year in Seattle, I scored three touchdowns and didn’t go,” said Washington, referring to his trio of kickoff returns for scores in 2010. “It’s so weird. It works like that sometimes. But Richard is All-Pro. And that’s big. That’s almost bigger than the Pro Bowl.
“He’ll be here next year.”
MATT THOMAS HIRED TO REPLACE JOHN IDZIK
The Seahawks didn’t wait long to re-hire Dan Quinn as their defensive coordinator after Gus Bradley was named head coach of the Jaguars last week. They followed the same path after John Idzik left to become general manager of the Jets later in the week, as Matt Thomas was named today as the team’s new vice president of football administration.
“Matt is a well-respected salary cap expert and was recommended by many top-ranking NFL executives,” general manager John Schneider said. “I am excited to welcome him to our football family.”
Thomas joins the Seahawks after spending the past three seasons with the Browns in the same capacity as their salary-cap expert and chief contract negotiator. He began his NFL career in 1998 with the Dolphins and spent 12 seasons with the club, including being the vice president/general counsel & football administration in 2009.
A LITTLE ASSISTANTS, PLEASE
The NFC squad is being coached by Mike McCarthy and his Packers’ staff, which includes assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss. He played linebacker for the Seahawks from 1995-97 and finished second on the team with 106 tackles in 1996.
Greg Knapp, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator in 2009, is a member of John Fox’s staff with the Broncos that is coaching the AFC squad. Knapp just joined the Broncos after spending the season as offensive coordinator of the Raiders.
AN EVEN DOZEN FOR CHAMP
Speaking of the Broncos, cornerback Champ Baily is taking part in his 12th Pro Bowl. But he definitely is not taking a ho-hum, just-another-week-in-Hawaii approach.
“I had a veteran tell me a long time ago, if you are willing to stop coming, you stop coming,” Bailey said. “Any time I’m invited to do something this special, I’m coming. Unless I’m really hurt, that’s the only way I would miss this game.”
STAT DU JOUR
Russell Wilson will become the fourth Seahawks quarterback to play in the Pro Bowl, as the rookie joins Dave Krieg, Warren Moon and Matt Hasselbeck. Here’s a look at how those other QBs have done in their Pro Bowl appearances:
Player, (season) Att. Comp. Yds. TD Int.
Dave Krieg (1984) 10 4 32 0 0
Dave Krieg (1988) 14 3 21 0 1
Dave Krieg (1989) 23 15 148 0 0
Warren Moon (1997) 8 4 89 0 0
Matt Hasselbeck (2003) 9 4 51 0 1
Matt Hasselbeck (2005) 17 10 85 0 1
Matt Hasselbeck (2007) 9 7 78 1 0
Both Pro Bowl squads will hold their final practice on Saturday morning at Aloha Stadium.
After practice today, Wilson took part in a roundtable with Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Redskins linebacker London Fletcher and Packers center Jeff Saturday that will air Sunday as part of NBC’s coverage of the game.
YOU DON’T SAY
“It’s extremely unlike me. You know me, man. Me and media, we never mix. But this is a great opportunity.” – left tackle Russell Okung on the media attention that comes with being at his first Pro Bowl
Twitter chatter from the third day of the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii:
Leon Washington’s wife, Charity, posted to Instagram this photo of her family vacation:
HONOLULU – Hawkville moves to Paradise this week, as the Seahawks have six players preparing to participate in the Pro Bowl on Sunday at Aloha Stadium:
Russell Wilson. What a whirlwind week the Seahawks’ rookie quarterback has had. He didn’t find out that he was being added to the NFC Pro Bowl squad until Sunday after Falcons QB Matt Ryan injured his left shoulder during Atlanta’s loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
Imagine how rushed Wilson must have been in preparing to join teammates Russell Okung, Max Unger, Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington and Earl Thomas for their flight from Seattle to Honolulu on Tuesday. Or, think again.
“I got called right after the game,” Wilson, who was the third alternate at his position, said today following the NFC practice that was held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. “But I was hoping that I was going to be able to go. So I was already packed and ready to go.”
The kid QB is focused, and has been since the Seahawks selected him in the third round of the NFL Draft last April. How else can you explain everything he has been able to accomplish during a rookie season that now includes a Pro Bowl berth?
“It’s obviously a blessing,” Wilson said.
Okung and Unger are not the only Seahawks offensive linemen here this week. Okung brought right tackle Breno Giacomini and right guard John Moffitt with him.
So there are six Seahawks on the NFC squad and two more who are getting a first-hand look at just how cool it is to go to the Pro Bowl.
“That’s even better,” Okung said. “That just shows you what we’re doing as a team and where we’re trying to get. We’re going to have guys come here, hopefully, every year.”
WILSON WINS “TOP VALUE” AWARD
Wilson has been voted the Vizio Top Value Performer of the Year, which measures on-field performance against earnings.
The others finalists were Redskins running back Alfred Morris, Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley and Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts. But, according to the release announcing his selection, a record-breaking number of fans decided that Wilson provided his team with the greatest value during the 2012 season.
“It’s an honor to win this great award, and I’d like to thank the fans for voting me as the Vizio Top Value Performer,” said Wilson. “All the finalists had fantastic seasons and were certainly deserving of this award, but I’m happy to be able to share this with my teammates and all the fans that support our team.”
STAT DU JOUR
Half the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl contingent is here for the first time – Wilson, Unger and Okung. But the other half has been here before – Thomas, Washington and Lynch, who was the NFC’s leading rusher last season and the AFC’s leading rusher in 2008 while playing with the Bills. Here’s a look at their previous Pro Bowl contributions:
Year Carries Yards Avg.
2008 6 48 8.0
2011 8 43 5.4
(also caught one passes for 2 yards in ’08)
Year Carries Yards Avg.
2008 2 22 11.0
(also caught one pass for 6 yards; and returned four kickoffs for 65 yards and two punts for 2 yards)
2011 Credited with no tackles
The NFC and AFC squads will practice on Friday, but the sessions have been moved to the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa, where the players are staying. The practices originally were scheduled for Kapolei High School, the site of Wednesday’s practices.
YOU DON’T SAY
“It’s even more special for me, being from Hawaii. It’s pretty cool, man. I hope they keep the game here. It’s a pretty special environment. ” – Unger, who is from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island
HONOLULU – Along the fence that separated the fans from the Pro Bowl players they had come to see was Jason Higashionna.
In a crowd estimated at 1,500 that gathered for today’s practices by the NFC and AFC teams that will participate in Sunday’s game, Higashionna was front and center. He was wearing a No. 91 Chris Clemons jersey and standing underneath a 12th Man flag.
Let’s just say that Hawaiian-born-and-raised Higashionna has not only connections, but a friend who was willing to show up at 2 a.m. at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to insure their prime viewing spot and also, well, here’s what Higashionna had to say about his flag.
“The Sea Gals gave me that flag when they came through for a Pacific Rim tour,” he said, smiling despite the rain that started to fall as the NFC squad took the field and turned into soaking showers by the time the AFC got its turn.
Higashionna then pulled out his phone and produced a picture of him surrounded by members of the Seahawks’ dance team.
“They gave me that flag,” he said. “And it was an awesome experience.”
Higashionna was among the largest pocket of several groups of Seahawks fans who turned out to see the Sea-Six – the team’s Pro Bowl contingent that includes left tackle Russell Okung, center Max Unger, running back Marshawn Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson, kick returner Leon Washington and free safety Earl Thomas.
But he is no 12th Man-come-lately.
“I’m diehard Seahawks fan,” he said. “I fell in love with them when I watched (Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve) Largent play.”
He then turned to several others in his group and offered with a laugh, “I appreciate all these guys jumping on the bandwagon. They see the light, and I’m happy to see that.”
They also detected the lightheartedness of his comment, as it was greeted by a rowdy round of laughter.
But while half a dozen members of his team came to Higashionna this week, Matt Darlington and Ryan and John Towner came from the Mainland to see the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl Six.
“We flew over just to support our guys,” Darlington said.
After their on-field session was completed, the players “worked” the fence. They signed autographs on everything from jerseys, to Pro Bowl helmets and footballs, to a baby – yes, one fan had Wilson autograph his child. They posed for pictures. They chatted with the fans who must have felt like they were watching a practice in Renton rather than Paradise.
One fan frustrated by his inability to get Wilson’s attention broke into his best Tom Hanks’ impersonation from “Cast Away,” as he repeatedly bellowed, “Wil-l-lson-n-n. Wil-l-lson-n-n.”
“This is a great experience,” Wilson said as he was walking back across the field to the buses that were waiting to take the NFC squad back to its resort – and as the drenched fans continued to call his name.
“It’s a privilege to be here.”
DIAMOND HEAD – Make that higher ground, and make it the rim of the crater at this state monument that offers panoramic views of Waikiki beach, Diamond Head Lighthouse, the crater below and, of course, the Pacific Ocean.
Digital content coordinator Tony Drovetto and I are here to cover the six Seahawks who are preparing to play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl for the NFC squad – left tackle Russell Okung, center Max Unger and free safety Earl Thomas, who are starters; kick returner Leon Washington; and running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, who are backups.
We flew over from Seattle today, but arrived too late to cover the first practice. So we used our late afternoon to hike to the crater rim, along with director of communications Lane Gammel. When we were making the last part of the trek to the top, a rainbow appeared against the clouds and hills to the northeast of the crater. The Chamber of Commerce couldn’t have created a more-fitting welcome to the Rainbow State.
Check back tomorrow and throughout the rest of the week when we’ll have written and video reports from the practices and the game. Thursday’s practice is being held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, while the Friday session is set for Kapolei High School before both squads take the field at Aloha Stadium for Saturday’s workout.
Aloha for now.
Add another item to Russell Wilson’s already impressive rookie-season resume: Pro Bowl quarterback.
Wilson was added to the NFC squad today when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was forced to drop out after injuring his left shoulder during Sunday’s loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Wilson was the third alternate at his position when the team was named last month.
The Redskins’ Robert Griffin III and Packers’ Aaron Rodgers also were voted to the NFC squad, but each has dropped out of the Pro Bowl, also due to injuries, and been replaced by the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Giants’ Eli Manning.
Wilson will be heading to Honolulu this week for Sunday’s NFL all-star game, where the rookie QB will join teammates Russell Okung, Max Unger, Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington and Earl Thomas. They were voted berths on the NFC squad, Okung and Unger as the starters at left tackle and center; Washington as the kick returner; Lynch as the backup at running back to the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson; and Thomas as the backup free safety to the 49ers’ Dashon Goldson, although Goldson won’t play in the Pro Bowl because the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.
Wilson led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record during the regular season and then the franchise’s first road playoff victory since 1983 when they beat the Redskins in a wild-card game. Along the way, Wilson threw 26 touchdown passes to tie the NFL rookie record and also broke the mark for rookie passer rating (100.0).
Seahawks.com hands out its honors from the team’s 11-5 regular season and split of two games in the postseason:
MVP: Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. How can pick one over the other? How can you pick one or the other? We couldn’t, so the Beast Mode running back and steady-as-he-throws rookie QB share the honor, just as they shared the workload. There’s an entire story’s worth of thought process that went into this decision.
Best offensive player: Max Unger. It could go to Lynch or Wilson, obviously. But this is a share-the-credit selection, since both Lynch and Wilson were always quick to credit the line for its part their accomplishments. Unger, in his second season as the starting center, anchored that line and was voted All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl. “He’s right all the time,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “I think to do this the consistency thing comes into play here. You’ve got to do it running the ball and protecting your quarterback down after down, and Max has done that.”
Best defensive player: Richard Sherman. Only strong safety Kam Chancellor (.975) and free safety Earl Thomas (.958) played a higher percentage of snaps than Sherman (.948), but no one made more plays than the second-year cornerback. He led the team, and tied for second in the NFL, with eight interceptions. He also had 24 passes defensed, almost three times as many as Thomas (nine), who finished second on the team. Somehow snubbed when it came to voting for the Pro Bowl, Sherman was selected to the All-Pro team. If enough people were paying attention, he also should get some consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year – an award that is expected to be a slam-dunk for the Texans’ J.J. Watt. And Sherman saved one of his best efforts for the biggest stage – Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Falcons. “I thought he had a fantastic football game,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They went after him. They challenged him. And I thought he was incredible.”
Best special teams player: Heath Farwell. Again, this was not an easy choice. And asking special teams coordinator Brian Schneider for help didn’t help at all, because so many of his players made special contributions. From Jon Ryan, who broke his own club record for net average (40.8) and was among the league leaders with 30 punts downed inside the 20; to kicker Steven Hauschka, who was 23 of 23 from inside the 50; to Leon Washington, who was voted to the Pro Bowl and returned the eighth kickoff of his career for a TD to tie the NFL record; to Michael Robinson, who was second to Farwell in coverage tackles (10); to Malcolm Smith, who scored off a muffed punt return and blocked a punt that was returned for a score. But for Schneider, it was all about the consistency with his units and no one was more consistent than Farwell, who had 15 coverage tackles to go with the league-high 21 he produced last season.
Offensive rookie of the year: Wilson, for all the obvious reasons and even more that weren’t that obvious.
Defensive rookie of the year: Bobby Wagner. While first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin led all NFL rookies with eight sacks, Wagner led the team, and finished second among all rookies in the league, with 140 tackles during the regular season and 17 during the postseason. The second-round draft choice also produced four interceptions and two sacks from his middle linebacker spot. The best part of everything that Wagner did? His attitude. “I’m the middle linebacker,” he said. “I’m supposed to make a lot of tackles.”
Free-agent addition of the year: Zach Miller. Yes, he was signed in free agency the previous year. But his contributions this season came much closer to displaying just how versatile – and good – a tight end Miller is. He’s a rock-solid blocker and also finished third on the team with 38receptions and tied for second with three TD catches. But it was Miller’s over-the-top efforts against the Falcons that forced the turn-back-the-clock tweak in this category: eight catches for 142 yards. All after he tore the plantar fascia in his left foot on the Seahawks’ first possession. “Zach had a terrific season for us,” Carroll said. “But in this game, when he had the opportunities, boy, he cashed in on all of them.”
Chris Gray Award: Paul McQuistan. Who better to win this than this generation’s Chris Gray? Gray was a warrior of a lineman who started a club-record 121 consecutive games from 1999-2006, after being signed to fill a backup role. That’s the same path McQuistan has followed. Signed to a future contract in January of 2011, he started a career-high 10 games last season and 16 this season – nine at right guard and seven at left guard, where he also started both postseason games. “He’s kind of our glue, that’s the way I look at him,” Cable said. “Paul has been so valuable. He has played multiple positions the last two years. He never misses a beat. It’s just that his wisdom and experience are so valuable for those young guys in there. So he truly has been the glue in that room, without a doubt.”
Best trend: Going 8-0 at home. This season’s team did it, joining the 2003 and 2005 teams as the only ones in franchise history to do it. Along the way, the Seahawks dispatched the Packers and Patriots, who went on to win their divisions, as well as the playoff-bound Vikings. They also avenged road losses to each of their NFC West rivals – beating the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals by a combined 94 points in the final month of the regular season after losing to them by a combined 17 points in the first seven weeks of the season. Think how different things might have turned out if the Seahawks had been able to play at CenturyLink Field in the postseason. Carroll has. “That’s why you own your division, so you can be positioned to play at home,” he said. “That’s what’s at hand, that’s the goal of this program – it’s to win the division so that you can start the playoffs where you want to, and try to keep it there.”
Worst trend: The inability to hold fourth-quarter leads. As well as the defense played – and that was ranked-No. 4-in-the NFL well – it allowed the Lions, Dolphins and finally Falcons to drive to game-winning scores after the Seahawks taken fourth-quarter leads. The Bears tied the score at the end of regulation, but the offense won that game in overtime. Win a couple of those other games and the Seahawks would have captured the division and opened the postseason at home. “That’s an issue, just finishing it off on that last drive,” Carroll said. “There are four games sitting right there. That’s a big-time season. But I’m not worried about figuring that out. It’s just a snap here or there. But it happened this year and you can’t ignore that.”
Best quote: This one is actually a remark incumbent starter, and since traded, Tarvaris Jackson made last spring – way before the fact, and way before Wilson became the talk of the NFL: “Russell, he’s not like a regular rookie.”
A recap of the activities at Virginia Mason Athletic Center for Jan. 8:
Brandon Browner. Pete Carroll admits he wasn’t sure what to expect from the Seahawks’ cornerback in Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game against the Redskins because Browner had just returned from serving a four-game suspension.
But the coach’s apprehension didn’t last long, as Browner was quickly back to being his physical self while helping put the clamps on the Redskins’ passing game in the 24-14 victory at FedExField.
“He slipped and fell one time, but other than that he played a very good football game,” Carroll said. “He exceeded my expectations of how he would go in this game. He took some deep balls and challenged some stuff underneath and did a great job.”
It was a promising – and needed – performance, with what the Falcons will throw at the Seahawks in their divisional-round game this Sunday in Atlanta. Or perhaps who they’ll throw at the Seahawks is a more appropriate way to put it, since the Falcons’ passing game features Roddy White and Julio Jones, who combined to catch 171 passes from QB Matt Ryan for 2,549 yards and 17 TDs.
“He’s ready to go,” Carroll said of Browner. “We needed him to comeback like he did – we didn’t know – and he pulled it off.”
Right guard. Rookie J.R. Sweezy started Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game against the Redskins, but John Moffitt also played after being inactive the previous two games. Carroll liked the way the tag-team rotation worked.
“They both played well, they did a good job. Both of those guys were solid in the game,” said Carroll, with the Seahawks’ rushing for 224 yards as Exhibit A in that assessment. “They have a little different style about them, and they both came through alright.”
Will both continue to play against the Falcons this week?
“I don’t really care if it’s one guy or two guys,” Carroll said. “We just want to get good solid play out of it, and I think it was kind of nice in (the Redskins’) game to not have J.R. under the gun. He didn’t have to play every snap in the game and we got to rest him a little bit and keep him fresh – and keep his mind clear, too. It’s a lot to intake for a young guy at that spot, and these guys were coming after us and doing all kinds of things.
“I think Tom did a great job of mixing that for those guys.”
That would be Tom Cable, the line coach and also assistant head coach. As for which one might start against the Falcons, Carroll said, “We’ll see how the week goes and let Tom call that.”
STATS ’N STUFF
The playoffs are only a week old, and only eight teams participated, but the Seahawks emergence from the Wild Card round ranked No. 1 in rushing offense and passing defense. They are No. 2 in total defense and No. 4 in total offense.
Marshawn Lynch’s 132 rushing yards rank second to the Texans’ Arian Foster (140), and he is third in total yards (141) and fourth in first downs (six). Leon Washington is second in punt-return average (9.5 yards) and fifth in kickoff-return average (23.0).
Russell Wilson’s passer rating of 92.9 ranks third behind the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (126.5) and Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (104.9), and he is second in third-down passer rating (88.9) to the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (116.7).
Free safety Earl Thomas shares the lead with his one interception.
STAT DU JOUR
The Wilson wow-factor continues to grow. His 100.0 passer rating during the regular season ranks No. 2 in the League since 2001 for a player in his first 16 starts. Here’s a look at who the Seahawks’ rookie QB trailed and, more importantly, who he ranked ahead of:
Player, team (record) Att. Comp. Yards TD Int. Rating
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (15-1) 335 219 3,133 21 9 105.2
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (11-5) 393 252 3,118 26 10 100.0
Aaron Rodgers, Packers (6-10) 536 341 4,038 28 13 93.8
Philip Rivers, Chargers (14-2) 460 284 3,388 22 9 92.0
Tom Brady, Patriots (13-3) 481 313 3,360 23 13 90.1
Jay Cutler, Broncos (7-9) 437 275 3,385 22 15 89.3
Matt Ryan, Falcons (11-5) 434 265 3,440 16 11 87.7
Cam Newton, Panthers (6-10) 517 310 4,051 21 17 84.5
Carson Palmer, Bengals (9-7) 529 332 3,683 26 20 84.0
Matt Schaub, Falcons/Texans (4-12) 474 298 3,424 16 16 81.8
Redskins’ rookie Robert Griffin III had a 102.4 rating this season, but he started 15 games.
The players return from a couple of “off” days to begin practicing on “Competition Wednesday” in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.
YOU DON’T SAY
“The bottom line is, Wilson’s amazing. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s able to see those windows and get the ball in there, even though his official height is 5-foot-10 5/8. Before the draft, people were worried that he’d have an issue with blocked passes, but on Sunday, he didn’t have a single throw knocked down. (Andrew) Luck, on the other hand, had several passes blocked. I’ll tell you what, there are going to be a whole bunch of future quarterback prospects who measure around 6-feet tall who had better send Wilson a card. His performance as a rookie will really open the NFL up to a whole new type of player.” – former Cowboys VP of player personnel Gil Brandt, assessing the play of the three rookie QBs from Sunday’s wild-card games at NFL.com
When: Sunday, 1:30 p.m. PT, FedExField, Landover, Md.
Records: Seahawks were 11-5 during the regular season to finish second in the NFC West and clinch the No. 5 seed in the playoffs; Redskins were 10-6 to win the NFC East and clinch the No. 4 seed.
Significance: The winner advances to the divisional round of the playoffs next weekend
TV: FOX (KCPQ/13 in the great Seattle area), with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver
Radio: 710 AM ESPN Seattle and KIRO Radio 97.3, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller
Rest of the NFC: Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5) on Saturday night; Falcons (13-3) and 49ers (11-4-1) have first-round byes
Seahawks’ middle linebacker Bobby Wagner vs Redskins’ running back Alfred Morris: It will take more than one tackler to contain Morris, who ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns last week in the victory over the Cowboys that clinched the NFC East title. But Wagner is a good place to start in this battle of Rookie of the Year candidates. Wagner led the Seahawks in tackles during the regular season (140) and set a club rookie record in the process. He averaged 10 tackles during the five-game winning streak to close the regular season. But he’s far from a one-trick pony. Wagner also collected three interceptions and two sacks to force his way into the discussion for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. But his primary focus on Sunday will be Morris, a sixth-round draft choice who finished second in the League with 1,613 rushing yards and ran for 13 touchdowns to make himself a candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
One to watch
Redskins’ linebacker London Fletcher vs Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch: This is the flip side to Wagner vs Morris. Or the more-seasoned version, if you will. Fletcher is 37 and in his 15th season, but you’d never know. He leads the Redskins in tackles (139) and, as Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson put it this week, “He will make, literally, every single tackle if you don’t block him.” Fletcher also led the Redskins in interceptions (five) and had a pair of sacks against the Cowboys. But again, his primary focus on Sunday will be the Beast Mode-running Lynch, who finished third in the league in rushing with a career-high 1,590 yards, scored 11 rushing touchdowns and had four of his 10 100-yard rushing games the past four weeks. It’s Lynch’s presence that sets up the play-action passing game. It’s Lynch presence that has made the zone-read runs so effective during the team’s five-game winning streak.
Fun to watch
Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson vs Redskins’ QB Robert Griffin III: This one includes apologies to both rookie QBs, who stressed this week that they are not playing against one another but the respective defenses in this game. But come on, it’s the most-discussed matchup in a much-discussed matchup between team that have won their past five (Seahawks) and past seven (Redskins) games. While RGIII set an NFL rookie record for passer rating (102.4), Wilson tied the rookie record for touchdown passes (26) that was set in 1998 by Peyton Manning and also had a passer rating (100.0) that bettered the old mark (98.1 by the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger in 2004). Griffin ran for more yards (815 to 489 for Wilson), but Wilson led his team to one more victory. Any way you slice and dice the numbers these two put up, it’s impressive-squared. The rookie QB who plays the least like a rookie on Sunday will go a long way in determining which team advances to the divisional round.
One tough task
Seahawks’ cornerback Marcus Trufant vs Redskins’ wide receiver Santana Moss: Trufant returned last week after missing four games with a hamstring injury and made a couple of huge plays in the seven-point victory over the Rams. But Moss will present a different challenge than the receivers Trufant faced coming out of the slot against the Rams. Moss leads the Redskins with eight touchdown catches among his 41 receptions, including a 77-yarder. So with Moss, it’s not just covering him, it’s also containing him once he makes the catch. Trufant returned an interception 78 yards for a TD to ice the Seahawks’ win over the Redskins in a 2007 wild-card game in Seattle.
The Redskins are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, when they were eliminated in the Wild Card round by the Seahawks in Seattle. … The Redskins won the NFC East title for the first time since 1999, which is why they’re hosting a team that finished with a better record. … The Seahawks have won their past three Wild Card playoff games – 41-36 over the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in 2010; 35-14 over the Redskins in ’07; and 21-10 over the Cowboys in 2006. But all three games were played in Seattle. … During their five-game winning streak, the Seahawks have outscored their opponents 193-60. … The Redskins were third in the league with a plus-17 turnover differential. They turned the ball over a league-low, and club record, 14 times (eight interceptions and losing six of their 26 fumbles). … The Seahawks tied for fifth in the League with a plus-13 turnover differential. They had 31 takeaways (18 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries), which tied for fifth in the league. … The Seahawks ranked No. 4 in total defense, while the Redskins were No. 5 in total offense and led the League in rushing for the first time since 1933. … The Seahawks’ Leon Washington ranked second in the League in kickoff-return average (29.0). … Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tied for second in the League with eight interceptions.
A recap of the activities at Virginia Mason Athletic Center for Dec. 31:
Reality ball and fun. Coach Pete Carroll used both terms today when discussing the Seahawks’ 20-13 victory over the Rams in their regular-season finale on Sunday and their playoff game this week against the Redskins at FedExField.
First, the Rams’ game, which was a return to reality for the Seahawks after they had won by 58, 33 and 29 points in their previous three games: “It was a game that was good for us, in that it was hard and tough and we were behind and had to work our way back. I think that was good after the games that we’ve had, to get back to real football – reality ball, how it can be.”
And how it was, as well. Five of the Seahawks’ first seven victories came by two points (Packers), four points (at the Panthers), one point (Patriots), 10 points (Vikings) and six points in overtime (at the Bears). They also beat the Cowboys by 20 and the Jets by 21.
The win over the Rams didn’t come until quarterback Russell Wilson capped a 90-yard drive by scoring on a 1-yard run with 1:39 to play and cornerback Richard Sherman intercepted Sam Bradford’s fourth-down pass at the goal line with 33 seconds left.
“That’s high odds going against you,” Carroll said of the late scoring drive. “But we got great play. Guys executed beautifully at that time. The quarterback did a great job, made a couple big plays scrambling and running.
“And we scored early enough to give the defense a chance to do their thing, as well. And it was good to see that because we’ve had some issues at times. I think the thing that was exciting for us is that we kind of expected to pull this thing off here at the end.”
Now, the fun that is the reward from winning their final five regular-season games and seven of their past eight to reach the playoffs: “It’s more fun, because of where you are and the focus and all that. There will be a feel about the playoffs, there’s always kind of that air about it. You can sense it. It’s different.
“But the key is not allowing that to factor into what it really takes to prepare well, and not miss the message. They’ll be excited to play and everybody’s going to have great focus this week, just because it is the playoffs. But that’s something we’re trying to create on a regular basis, so when we get to this time we’ve already ‘been-there/done-that.’ ”
The Seahawks advanced to the playoffs in 2010, their first season under Carroll, and knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in a wild-card game in Seattle. They then lost to the Bears in Chicago in the divisional round.
So this Seahawks team is looking to do something no Seahawks team has done since 1983: Win a playoff game on the road.
“It’s about consistency when you get into this opportunity,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to bring what you’ve got. Don’t show up without your stuff on that day. We know how to do that. Now we have to see if we can bring it to life and not get distracted by the fact it’s the playoffs.”
Cornerback Brandon Browner returned to the Seahawks today from his four-game suspension.
To clear a roster spot, cornerback Walter Thurmond was placed on injured reserve. Thurmond injured a hamstring in practice earlier this month and has missed the past three games.
“We couldn’t get him over the hump on it,” Carroll said. “He kind of re-tweaked it again last week, and that means it’s going to be a couple of weeks again.”
Browner, an alternate to the Pro Bowl last season who was added to the NFC squad as an injury replacement, started the first 12 games on the right side.
“He’s worked out real hard. His weight’s in good shape,” Carroll said. “He’s still fast and all that. He’s going to have fresh legs. But we’ve got to see how he does. Unfortunately, we have guys that can play. If he’s not quite right or he doesn’t get off to a good start during the week, we’ve got other guys who can play for him.
“But we’re going to give him a heckuva chance to play. We’re thrilled to get him back. We’ll see what happens.”
The club also signed rookie defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga and cornerback Ron Parker to its practice squad.
Meatoga was with the Raiders earlier this season. He fills the spot that opened when linebacker Allen Bradford was signed to the 53-man roster on Friday. With Parker being added, wide receiver Corbin Louks was released. Parker was with the team in training camp, released on the roster cut to 75 players and then signed to the 53-man roster off the Panthers’ practice squad Dec. 5 before being released last Friday.
SIX SEAHAWKS FINISH AMONG LEAGUE LEADERS
Leon Washington finished second in the league and led the NFC in kickoff return average (29.0).
Sherman tied for second in the league in interceptions (eight) and led the team with 24 passes defensed; while Chris Clemons tied for ninth in sacks (11.5) and Bruce Irvin led all rookies in sacks (eight).
Marshawn Lynch slipped to third in the league is rushing when Redskins rookie Alfred Morris ran for 200 yards on Sunday night. Lynch finished the regular season with 1,590 yards, while Morris had 1,613. The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson led the league with 2,097. Lynch also was fourth in total yards (1,786) behind Peterson (2,314), the Titans’ Chris Johnson (1,964) and Bucs’ Doug Martin (1,926); tied for sixth in first downs (79); and tied for seventh in scoring among non-kickers (72 points).
Wilson was fourth in the league in passer rating (100.0) behind the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (108.0), Broncos’ Peyton Manning (105.8) and Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (102.4); fifth in fourth-quarter passer rating (102.7); fifth in third-down passer rating (96.2); and eighth in completion percentage (.641).
Jon Ryan was ninth in net punting average (40.8) and tied for seventh in punts inside the 20 (30).
As a team, the Seahawks ranked No. 3 in rushing offense, No. 4 in total defense, No. 6 in passing defense and No. 10 in rushing defense. The offense was No. 17 overall and No. 27 in passing offense. They also were plus-13 in turnover differential, which tied for fifth in the league.
Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the team in tackles with a franchise rookie-record 140, while linebacker K.J. Wright (96) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (91) finished 2-3. Heath Farwell led the team with 15 special teams tackles.
KING VOTES WILSON, WAGNER FOR ROOKIES OF THE YEAR
Peter King at SI.com has a vote for the NFL awards given each year by the Associated Press, and he tabs Wilson as the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Wagner as the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
King on Wilson: “Wilson over Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. Morphing from a laughed-at 5-foot-11, 75th pick in the draft into a tornado-like force at quarterback by December (three games, 150 points, including 42 against the mighty Niners), and playing like Fran Tarkenton with a better arm, Wilson nipped Griffin in my opinion. But if you want either other man, I have zero problem or argument with you.”
King on Wagner: “Bobby Wagner, edging Green Bay cornerback Casey Hayward and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly. Wagner turned a suspect group of Seattle linebackers, the weak point of the Seahawks defense, into a competitive group by being great against the run (more tackles than Patrick Willis) and good dropping into coverage (three interceptions, excellent instincts).”
STAT DU JOUR
We ran the chart of the rookie QBs with the best passer ratings in league history last week, but that was before Wilson and Griffin rewrote it on Sunday. So here’s the new Top 5, with those who fell out of it and the other rookies in this year’s class:
Player, team (year) Rating
Robert Griffin III, Redskins (2012) 102.4
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (2012) 100.0
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (2004) 98.1
Dan Marino, Dolphins (1983) 96.0
Greg Cook, Bengals (1969) 88.3
Matt Ryan, Falcons (2008) 87.8
Cam Newton, Panthers (2011) 84.5
Other 2012 rookies:
Nick Foles, Eagles 79.1
Andrew Luck, Colts 76.5
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins 76.1
Brandon Weeden, Browns 72.6
New Year’s Day, of course. The players had today “off” and will be “off” on Tuesday as well, although many were in today for a workout, treatment or to get a jump on their video preparation for Sunday’s game.
YOU DON’T SAY
“Whatever awards come Russell Wilson’s way, we understand it. He’s just such a complete kid. That’s a really cool award for what he’s done off the field. He’s just on on all cylinders hitting it. The players would recognize that. The people in the community would recognize that. And the coaches certainly know that, as well. Anything with Steve Largent’s name on it is pretty cool.” – Carroll on Wilson being voted the Steve Largent Award by his teammates