Russell Wilson has no use for what “they say.”
He doesn’t need people telling him how much harder his and the Seahawks’ playoff road is this time around. How only four teams have entered the playoffs as a wild card and then won three straight road games to reach the Super Bowl.
“Ultimately, if you want to be great at something in life, no matter what it may be, you have to be a self-motivator,” the soaring Seahawks quarterback said Thursday. “For me, I don’t need people to motivate me.
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“I come to work, I try to be the best to ever do it.
“I’ve got a long way to go. But you just take one day at a time and enjoy the ride. That’s a big part of it, just enjoying the process … the mental fortitude of being great. Day in and day out.”
These last six weeks, he’s looked more like the best ever to do it, less like he has a long way to go.
He’s started his career with four postseason trips in as many seasons. The fourth begins Sunday when the sixth-seeded Seahawks (10-6), winners of six of their past seven games, play at NFC North-champion Minnesota (11-5).
Wilson has won the most regular-season games over the first three years of any NFL quarterback. He’s the first quarterback to start in two Super Bowls in his first three seasons, and last February became the youngest QB to start two Super Bowls; he was 118 days younger than Tom Brady was when Brady did that. Last summer Wilson signed an $87.6 million contract extension with Seattle that includes $61 million guaranteed and averages $21.9 million per year, second only to the $22 million per year of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
After the payday, Wilson got even better. This season, despite a new line and injuries to his top two running backs, he set Seattle records with 4,024 yards passing, a 68.1 percent completion rate and 34 touchdowns. He threw just eight interceptions.
He became the first player in league history to throw for 4,000 yards, rush for 500 and throw for 30 touchdowns in a season.
Beyond the numbers, is Wilson where he wants to be here in his fourth season? Is he on pace to achieve being the “best to ever do it”?
“Yeah, I definitely think it’s right where I want to be. Just continue to build,” he said. “When I came in my rookie year, I wrote a whole bunch of goals. My goals for myself were simple goals, things that I could control.”
Wilson said he learned from his parents the value of setting such goals. His late father was Harrison Wilson, a Dartmouth graduate and briefly a San Diego Chargers wide receiver who became an attorney. His mother, Tammy, has worked as a legal nurse consultant at the University of Virginia.
So Wilson set out to focus on his footwork one day, his game study the next.
“But I think for my career, my No. 1 goal coming in — and still is — is treat every day as a new day,” he said. “I treat the play as like I’ve never heard it before. Try to learn as much as I can, continue to take notes as much as I can.
“Every time I come to work, it almost feels like it’s my rookie year again, (like) I’ve never done it before.”
So how have his goals changed after the Super Bowls and huge raise from the mid-$600,000s to more than $21 million per year?
“I can’t tell you all my goals,” he said, grinning.
One he wrote down in 2012 is longevity.
Wilson has been a starting quarterback since the beginning of his sophomore year at the Collegiate School, his private high school in Richmond, Virginia. He started all three of his seasons at North Carolina State and his final college one at Wisconsin, which he led into the Rose Bowl.
And he’s started every one of his games since he’s been in the NFL. He will make his 73rd consecutive start, regular season and postseason, on Sunday.
Another of his goals upon entering the league: To never miss a practice.
He hasn’t yet with the Seahawks. Oh, wait — Wilson missed a few days of a voluntary minicamp in May. He chose to fly instead to Florida, to attend the funeral of a woman new Seahawks teammate Jimmy Graham, signed two months earlier, considered a maternal figure in his life.
Another goal has to be mental toughness. Wilson spoke repeatedly of that again on Thursday as the key to his and the Seahawks’ success.
His own mental fortitude is part of what turned around Seattle’s season.
Wilson was sacked 31 times in the first seven games. When he wasn’t getting nailed, he was ducking and spinning and running away from free-rushing defenders. He looked so spooked at times he ducked and ran even on the few times his pocket remained intact. Marshawn Lynch got the first major injuries of his career and played in only seven of 16 regular-season games, robbing Wilson of the basis for his play-action passing his first three seasons in the league.
The Seahawks were 2-4 on their way to 4-5. A home loss in mid-November to Arizona essentially ended their two-year run as NFC West champions.
During the bye week following a 13-12 escape past woeful Dallas, coach Pete Carroll, play-caller Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable mandated Wilson throw the ball more quickly from the pocket to help his struggling linemen.
That was also about the time Cable made Patrick Lewis the center. Drew Nowak, a former college defensive tackle, had made his first five career starts to begin this season.
Lewis succeeded in all the areas Nowak had not. He made accurate protection calls, synchronized them with Wilson and effectively communicated those calls to each lineman in formation before the play. For the first time this season, Seattle’s entire line got on the same page and blocked as a cohesive unit. Wilson finally trusted that pocket.
ESPN Stats and Information noted Wilson completed almost 73 percent of his throws from the pocket, with 31 of his 34 touchdowns. That was a passer rating of 118.6; no QB in the past three seasons has had a better rating from the pocket.
“I think our team called upon him to be more of a pocket passer — not that he wasn’t before,” said wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who set a Seahawks record and shared the league lead with 14 touchdown catches. “With losing our top running backs and being forced to throw the ball a little bit more, we needed him to do what he’s done.
“He answered the call, which he always has. Major credit to him and his work ethic, and his determination to continuously improve on his game.”
And get this: Wilson just turned 27 on Nov. 29.
“There’s so much to the game that it extends beyond what he’s captured at this time, and it will come,” Carroll said. “I think seven or eight years into it you really have seen everything that you can see, and you’ve benefited from it, and you can really cash in on that.
“I know that seems like a really long time. But this is a very, very difficult game for the quarterback position. They can do a lot of things and function really well, but they still don’t have total command of everything that’s going on. He’ll know all 22 guys — everybody — what they’re doing in all aspects of everything they’re doing eventually.”
For now, Sunday’s test at frigid Minnesota, facing long Super Bowls odds, Wilson is focused on his recurring theme this season.
“Ultimately,” he says, “it comes down to being tough.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle