GLENDALE, Ariz. — Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson’s first start career start in Arizona 13 months ago ended miserably. A rookie in a hostile environment, Wilson threw incompletions on his final five pass attempts in a 20-16 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 9, 2012, the last three from the Cardinals’ 4-yard line.
He saw to it that there would be no reprise Thursday.
Although harried into a pair of fumbles when sacked, Wilson showed the escapability so valuable against attacking defenses — and by contrast so lacking in Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer — during the Seahawks’ cosmetically close 34-22 victory Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was not the shellacking that the 58-0 Seahawks laid on the Cardinals when the teams met Dec. 9, but it was enough.
Seattle (6-1) has marched to the head of the NFC, a half-game ahead of New Orleans, with an offense built on the bull-rushing Marshawn Lynch and the accurate, elusive Wilson. Combine that with a defense that sacked Palmer seven times and includes top cornerback Richard Sherman, and the Seahawks seem to have as a good a chance as any to make it to the Super Bowl.
Wilson controlled the game as the Seahawks took a 34-16 lead with 10 minutes left, completing 18 of 29 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. And it had nothing to do with payback.
“I have amnesia, man. I forget those things. You just have to let it go and move on to the next situation,” he said of the 2012 opener.
“I think I’ve grown so much. Our goal is to go 1-0 every week.”
Even 2-0; someone pointed out that the Seahawks have two victories this week with their 20-13 victory in Tennessee last Sunday.
This one was Wilson’s from the start. He took the Seahawks on an 83-yard touchdown drive on their first possession, a march that took all of five plays. He also took them 72 and 80 yards for touchdowns; the Seahawks had a 344-234 advantage in total offense, a figure only that close when Seattle chose to lay back and protect its 18-point lead in the final 10 minutes.
The first drive showcased the traits that make Wilson special. He kept the ball on a read option for 14 yards on the first play, then avoided pressure on a 23-yard catch-and-run to tight end Luke Wilson. The touchdown came three plays later. Wilson wanted to throw short left, saw the route was covered, then looked short right. No one open there, either. With the defense closing in, Wilson scrambled out of the pocket to his right and found third option Sidney Rice wide open behind safety Yeremiah Bell for an easy score.
“That’s a big-time play. That’s part of our game. That’s part of my game, the scramble situations,” Wilson said. “That’s an added benefit that we have. We want to be able to be the best in the National Football League at it. We work on it every day. There are a lot of good teams that are good at it. We want to be great at it.”
Rice amplified that.
“It was a scramble rule. Once the quarterback leaves the pocket, I saw the defender run down behind me when he thought Russell was going to run, and once he ran down, I went the opposite way and got behind him. Perfect ball. He always has his eyes downfield,” Rice said.
Wilson completed passes to nine receivers and went 7 for 12 on third-down opportunities. One of those, a pass to tight end Zach Miller, came when Wilson was falling forward while in the arms of Cardinals linebacker Darryl Washington, who thought he had a sack. The third-down play extended the Seahawks’ 80-yard scoring drive, which gave them a 24-10 lead midway through the third period.
“That’s kind of how we separated ourselves tonight,” Wilson said.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll sees Wilson as a game-changer.
“We would be a different team without him,” Carroll said of Wilson’s ability to extend plays. “It is such a natural part of our game, and he has become such a special athlete.”
The Cardinals’ only touchdown came came after Wilson fumbled when he turned into a Matt Shaugnessy sack and lost the ball at his own 3-yard line. That closed it to 14-10 with 3:40 left in the first half, but the Cardinals never were closer.
“I gotta find a way. That’s on me,” Wilson said.
Palmer, meanwhile, completed 30 of 45 passes for 238 yards — the majority coming when the game was no longer in doubt — with one touchdown, two interceptions and seven sacks. He has 13 interceptions this year; only the Giants’ Eli Manning (15) has more.
It would be unfair to say the Cardinals should have taken Wilson in the 2012 draft — a third-rounder, every team in the league passed on him at least twice, and his 5-foot-11 height is not NFL-spec. Beyond that, the Cardinals’ issues the last few years have started with their leaky offensive line.
At the same time, Wilson was the difference Thursday, his maturity and presence noticeably improved from the player the Cardinals saw early last season.
“He’s grown mentally. He understands the game more. He executes better,” Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate said. “But he’s still the same person he walked in as. He’s still driven. Wanting to get better every day. You have appreciate him for that. Russell is an even-keeled guy. He doesn’t live in the past.