TAMPA — Quarterback Russell Wilson can’t win a football game all by himself, although sometimes he has to try.
But he rarely, if ever, is the reason the Seahawks lose.
While the Bucs’ Jameis Winston has the most turnovers since 2015, Wilson is among the best in league history at protecting the football.
This season, Wilson is an NFL Most Valuable Player candidate with a league-leading 17 touchdown passes and only one interception.
In fact, Wilson’s career INT percentage is 1.8, tied for second-best in NFL history with Tom Brady and trailing only Aaron Rodgers (1.4 percent).
“It starts I think with commitment to the value of taking care of the football,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Russ is really in tune with our whole thing is about the ball so everything we stress and talked about from day one with our philosophy and approach is the ball. So Russ has embodied that mentality. But then it’s also his savvy and his decision-making and his experience. He’s really good at not putting the ball in trouble. He just doesn’t do it.
"He’s been like that for years and when it happens, it’s such a rarity. He’s been a great guy touchdowns to picks his whole career.’’
Carroll is right. Wilson has been incredibly accurate, completing 64.5 percent of his passes in his career. But his career touchdown passes (213) to interceptions (64) ratio is completely off the grid. Only three times has he reached double-digit INTs.
By comparison, over four and a half seasons with the Bucs, Winston has a career 61.1 completion percentage with 102 touchdowns and 70 INTs, a 3.2 interception percentage. In the past two weeks – in part due to poor routes by receivers and protection , Winston has tossed three touchdowns, seven interceptions and been sacked 10 times.
“We can’t give games away, period,’’ Winston said. “That’s just us as a team. That’s the pride we have of being NFL players. If you’re going to get beat, let them beat us. We don’t want to beat ourselves and I have to do a better job of living that up…it’s just a standard.’’
In many ways, Wilson is the anti-Winston. Whereas the Bucs quarterback was the Heisman Trophy and national championship winner at Florida State, Wilson was forced to transfer as a fifth-year senior from N.C. State when their head coach got angry Wilson had played baseball in the spring and allowed him to sign with Wisconsin.
Winston has prototypical NFL size (6-4, 231-pounds) and arm strength. Wilson fell to the third round in part because he’s generously listed at 5-11 and 215 pounds.
Given his physical shortcomings, did anyone see Wilson rising to NFL great?
“I don’t think anybody did,’’ said Bucs coach Bruce Arians. “At N.C. State, it was a different style of offense. Once he got to Wisconsin and got into that running game, he was a boot leg quarterback and you could see, ‘this guy is mobile, he can do some stuff, he’s really mobile and he’s got a great the deep ball.’ His pocket stuff from N.C. State, you would’ve never guessed it.’’
At 30, he already has led his team to two Super Bowls, winning one of them. No wonder the Seahawks earlier this season opted to make him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL with a $140-million contract.
Arians’ Cardinals teams have fared pretty well in Seattle. From 2013-17, Arians’ teams in Phoenix won four of five road games in Seattle.
“Russell Wilson is a guy I probably respect as much as any quarterback in this league,’’ Arians said. “As far as taking a broken play and making something fantastic out it. I’ve played him so many times and watched him do it. A lot of guys can scramble. A lot of guys can run. But not many guys can throw the ball down field across the field and know where your guys are when you break the pocket.
"He looks healthy again. He’s running a lot this year. He’s as good a dual threat as there is. And he can beat you from the pocket, so it will be a hell of a challenge.’’
What makes Wilson so effective? He’s too polished and poised to make a big mistake, much less do it twice in one game. The Seahawks recognized his ability to escape the pocket and increased the amount of read-option in their playbook to compliment a solid run game.
And according to Arians, no quarterback throws a more accurate deep ball on the move and under duress than Wilson. He has a rare ability to throw from many platforms and can square his body to throw deep passes accurately on time.
“Russell is a really smart guy and he doesn’t take many chances,’’ Carroll said. “He doesn’t take a lot of chances but he is a great deep ball thrower. When he throws, it’s coming down over the outside shoulder. And when you get interceptions on him, or sack fumbles that have happened in the past, they’re rare. But he’s excellent at it.’’
In fact, last Sunday at Atlanta Wilson tied Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre for the third-most touchdown passes in a player’s first eight seasons in the league at 213.
Winston got to know Wilson when they were members of the same Pro Bowl team in 2015.
“He’s just an amazing person and an amazing player,’’ Winston said. “I got the chance to spend some time with him in the 2015 Pro Bowl and just how he carries himself, he’s a true leader and an amazing person.’’
And he’s not going to throw the game away.