Two quarterbacks with similar attributes put on the most stunning show of the 2017 NFL season thus far on Sunday.
Russell Wilson and rookie phenom Deshaun Watson. 856 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, 97 rushing yards, 28 fourth quarter points, 79 total. Mind-boggling numbers.
There were some major mistakes, such as Watson’s pick-six to a revengeful Earl Thomas, just one drive after Watson found Will Fuller for a 59-yard touchdown pass over Thomas’ head. Wilson threw what almost was a game-ending interception to Texans cornerback Marcus Williams in the red zone with under three minutes to play and down four points.
But this game will be remembered for it’s quarterbacking brilliance and clutch play, capped off with Wilson’s three-play, 80-yard drive culminating in a game-winning TD pass to Jimmy Graham with 21 seconds to play.
Wilson was extraordinary under pressure, with a 113.5 passer rating with Texans in his face, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s been under fire all season thanks to the worst offensive line in football. The Seahawks recently traded for Texans tackle Duane Brown on Monday, just to salvage the situation.
Murmurs of Watson in the MVP race had already surfaced, and he’s still there, but hardly a favorite. Wilson vaulted himself ahead of Watson, and nearly into the Carson Wentz-Tom Brady-Alex Smith category, which could be categorized simply as the favorites.
For Seattle, time will tell if Brown alone can amend the Seahawks offensive line enough to win in the postseason. But the NFC is isn’t exactly abundant in the contender category. Only the Eagles (7-1) are in better position in the conference. The Vikings are inevitably-doomed because of their quarterback situation. The Cowboys (a team with Dak Prescott, a quarterback with a similar skillset to Watson and Wilson) (4-3) received news that Ezekiel Elliot’s six-game suspension is back on, again. The Rams (5-2) are a fun story, and are a future threat, but they’re no match for the Seahawks. They’re a wild card team at best. The NFC South has the Saints, who have won five straight but their defense simply can’t be called on to stop lethal offenses, while the Panthers are offensively-inept, and just traded Kelvin Benjamin, their No. 1 wide receiver, to the Bills. The Falcons (4-3) are dormant but have yet to prove their worth in 2017 as we approach the season’s midway point.
But in Seattle, the Seahawks have the NFC’s best quarterback in Wilson after an injury to Aaron Rodgers. After Brady, Wilson is the next best clutch quarterback in football, as well as proven winner. Since he entered the league in 2012, Wilson is second to only Brady in regular season wins (61), postseason wins (8) and Super Bowl appearances (2).
A team that was once led by the Legion of Boom, is now anchored by Wilson, who makes up the league’s worst offensive line and incompetent running game by throwing to a former-superstar-turned-pedestrian Jimmy Graham and a mighty-mouse group of undersized receivers in Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson.
The connection between Wilson and Baldwin, his favorite receiver, mirrors that of Brady and Deion Branch in the earlier years of the Patriots dynasty. With no disrespect to Baldwin, one of the league’s most underrated players, imagine what Wilson could do with an Antonio Brown or Julio Jones? An adequate offensive line? Brady got his shot with Randy Moss and Wes Welker and set records. Wilson is already having an incredible statistical career without any major weapons. The possibilities would be endless.
On Sunday, Wilson made due with what he had to out-duel a quarterback who shares several similarities with Wilson. Watson is an electrifying, clutch playmaker who has shown leadership and poise at not only the college level, but in the NFL with immediate success. Like Wilson with the Seahawks in 2012, Watson has ignited these Texans. Houston’s 3-4 record could easily be 6-1 had Watson played week one (Tom Savage started) and had the Texans defense held late versus Brady and Wilson on the road.
Watson is tied with Wentz for the league-lead in touchdown passes (19) and has become the new face of a franchise that has lost J.J. Watt, its soon to be former best player, for the second straight season due to injury. Like Wilson, there’s no denying the importance of Watson to his team.
Now both quarterbacks have officially entered the MVP race. Surely only Wilson has a realistic shot to make Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis this February. But both passers will continue and sustain their hault toward the top of any quarterback rankings, with each player seemingly having at least a decade (or more) of successful seasons in the near future.
At some point, the next group of elite passers will take the place of Brady, Rodgers, Drew Brees and the recently-retired Peyton Manning. Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, the NFL’s last two MVP award winners, can’t put together consecutive successful seasons. Andrew Luck can’t stay healthy on the mismanaged Colts, meanwhile while other once-anointed quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick are out of the league entirely.
In a few seasons, the title of the NFL’s best quarterback will be up for grabs. Expect these two to be at the forefront of that battle. For now, they’re just two MVP candidates who played a helluva game on Sunday. It was the duel of the year thus far.