GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Russell Wilson sprang up off the turf at State Farm Stadium, having taken a hard shot from All-Pro safety Budda Baker as he dived across the goal line. Wilson's 4-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's season finale had broken a 24-24 tie with the Arizona Cardinals, and the Seattle Seahawks' quarterback was as fired up as you'll ever see him.
He hugged teammates and pumped his arms in celebration. He ran back towards the sideline, ripped off his helmet and emphatically slapped hands with coach Pete Carroll, showing no concern for his surgically-repaired right middle finger. He continued shouting through his neon green mouth guard.
You rarely see this much emotion from the usually stoic Wilson, and as Hawkschronicle wrote on Twitter, you can't help but wonder if it was the cathartic release of a season's worth of frustration.
"The run on the goal line, holy cow," Carroll said. "He went against one of the best tacklers in the NFL, and he was swashbuckling in the end zone."
That might have not been the word Carroll was looking for, but this was undoubtedly the way he wanted his quarterback, offense and team to finish. Whether or not it was enough to impact the organization's thinking on the significant decisions it might make this offseason, it was a bit of salve on a disappointing season that will sting for a while.
The Seahawks' 38-30 win over the playoff-bound Cardinals capped a 4-2 finish following a 3-8 start that might have led some teams to check out. They scored 89 points over their final two games, finally capturing the offensive efficiency that was elusive under first-year coordinator Shane Waldron. And Wilson looked much more like himself in that stretch than the version that struggled after his midseason return from finger surgery.
In wins over the Detroit Lions and Cardinals, Wilson combined for eight touchdowns and two turnovers, both of which came against Arizona. His lost fumble and interception on a dump-off throw were significant mistakes but not the glaring misfires to open receivers that plagued him and suggested he was experiencing lingering effects of his finger injury.
Over the first three games, from Weeks 10-12, Wilson ranked 29th in Total QBR (23.6). He was 13th (47.8) from Weeks 13-16 and first (87.9) over the final two games.
That improvement didn't come in time to get the Seahawks back into playoff contention, but it gives them evidence that Wilson can return to his elite level of play, a valuable piece of information if the organization and quarterback end up back at the same crossroads as last offseason.
"I just thought that he was at his best in the last few weeks," Carroll said. "It's significant in recognizing that. I'm sure every day from this point forward he's going to feel better and better and better and put the surgery and all that behind him, which he already has, but it'll just be farther in the past and it will be less of a factor in any way. I was really excited for the finish."
The 89 combined points the Seahawks scored against Detroit and Arizona were the most of any NFL team in a two-game span this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's the third-most in a two-game span in franchise history, the others coming during an overlapping three-week stretch in Wilson's 2012 rookie season.
If only they could have been as good on third down over the first 16 weeks (dead last at 33.7%) as they were over the final two (second at 62.5%). That, plus the continuation of Rashaad Penny's surge and Wilson's better play, made Seattle's offense a force. Penny ran for a career-high 190 yards on Sunday, capping a five-game stretch in which he led the NFL with 671 yards.
The Seahawks' third-down problem prior to Week 17 was especially mystifying considering they were among the best in the NFL in terms of yards per play and offensive EPA over first and second down.
"The biggest thing was if we can get the third downs, you’ll be able to see how great this offense could really be," said receiver Tyler Lockett, who caught two of Wilson’s TD passes Sunday. "That's the thing that always just shot us in the foot this year was we couldn't get the third downs, so it was hard for us to stay on the field."
Two of the Seahawks' final four wins were over the lowly Lions and Houston Texans while the other two were over the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers and Cardinals. Any realistic chance of making postseason for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons was gone by then.
"Pete did a great job of keeping guys in it," said left tackle Duane Brown, who came to Seattle from Houston in 2017. "It's a lot of times where you didn't quite know where it was going to go and I've had seasons where we lost 12 straight and guys would just start planning their vacations, guys start checking out. That was never a thing here. I think he was a big part of that, just keeping guys engaged, keeping everything up beat and in high spirits."
Carroll said postgame that he expects to be back in 2022. Assuming that's true, Wilson's situation is the biggest question mark, even with a few factors -- including his own desire to stay under the right circumstances and a bad draft for quarterbacks -- working against a trade.
One of the complains he voiced last offseason was his perceived lack of say in personal decisions, but Wilson didn't offer suggestions postgame when asked what moves he thinks the team should make to return to contention, saying, "That's not on me to decide that stuff."
He chuckled in amusement when asked again about the uncertainty over his future, which some of his own comments have played into. Wilson, whose no-trade clause allows him to remain in Seattle if he chooses, has said he hopes to do so but has stopped short of declaring he will.
"You guys keep asking me the same question," Wilson said. "I think maybe you guys know something that I don't know. I think the biggest thing is that I love playing here ... I love the city. I love being here and everything else. I also love winning, too. We also have to do whatever it takes to make sure that we're doing that, and I think that's the standard, and that's what I believe in. I've got to do my part. It starts with me first, and the rest of the guys and all of us together, collectively what we can do better. Obviously, I love this city, and that's my hope and prayer."