ATLANTA — Seattle began this season trying to win despite starting a rookie at quarterback.
On Sunday, the Seahawks were less than a minute from reaching the NFC Championship Game because of him.
Russell Wilson completed his first 10 passes in the second half, threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another. His 385 yards passing was not only the most for any Seahawks quarterback in a playoff game, but the most ever for an NFL rookie in the postseason.
"He is an amazing football player," coach Pete Carroll said afterward. "He proved himself again and again. It is undeniable that you look at anything he did and put a star on it."
Wilson outplayed Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who had three touchdowns but was intercepted twice, including one painfully poor choice of a throw in the fourth quarter that safety Earl Thomas picked off.
Wilson was Seattle's metronome, the one thing the Seahawks could rely upon in a game that included too many wasted opportunities and missed tackles. Wilson led four touchdown drives in his team's first five possessions of the second half, giving Seattle a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds to play.
That lead lasted only 23 seconds, but that didn't change how impressive Seattle's offense was. Atlanta was supposed to be the more explosive team, yet the Seahawks outgained the Falcons.
Even after Seattle trailed 20-0 at halftime, Wilson nearly threw them to victory. He finished the game with 36 pass attempts, more than any game this season other than the overtime victory in Chicago.
He carried seven times for 60 yards in a performance that made sure the game went down to the final minute instead of being decided by Seattle's pair of missed scoring opportunities in the first half.
"What defined the game was our attitude," Wilson said. "The way we played, and our resilient focus to play the game at a high level for the rest of the game.
"Anybody watching this game that knows football knows that was an unbelievable comeback, unbelievable game and an unbelievable atmosphere against a very, very good football team in the Atlanta Falcons."
That comeback was the culmination of a seasonlong progress in which Seattle's emphasis shifted increasingly toward its rookie quarterback.
September is a memory at this point, one that is both distant as puzzling as Seattle kept everything dialed down, scoring fewer than 20 points in four of its first five games. That was part of Carroll's plan. He wanted to play to the strength of the team, its defense, to let his rookie quarterback progress gradually especially since he hadn't been named the starter until 14 days before the regular-season opener.
In December, Wilson had become the focal point of the offense, not just because he passed for 16 touchdowns while being intercepted twice over the second half of the season.
And after his season ended Sunday, Wilson had his eyes up, looking ahead before he even reached the locker room.
"Walking off the field, I got so excited for the next opportunity," he said. "I'm looking forward to what we have in the future."
It's a forecast that will now start with Wilson.
Russell Wilson passed for 385 yards in the Seahawks' loss at Atlanta. It was the most yards passing in a postseason game for a Seahawks quarterback and for any NFL rookie.
|385||Russell Wilson||at Atlanta||Jan. 13, 2013||Loss, 30-28|
|341||Matt Hasselbeck||vs. St. Louis||Jan. 8, 2005||Loss, 27-20|
|305||Matt Hasselbeck||at Green Bay||Jan. 4, 2004||Loss, 33-27 (OT)|
|297||Dave Krieg||at Cincinnati||Dec. 31, 1988||Loss, 21-13|
|385||Russell Wilson||Seahawks at Atlanta||Jan. 13, 2013||Loss, 30-28|
|335||Sammy Baugh||Washington at Chicago||Dec. 12, 1937||Win, 28-21|
|288||Andrew Luck||Indianapolis at Baltimore||Jan. 6, 2013||Loss, 24-9|