Russell Wilson is worth the price

DALLAS -- A little less than seven minutes remained in Seattle's game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Along the Seahawks sideline there was plenty of talk. The Seahawks trailed 12-10. The demons that had haunted this Seahawks team were present in AT&T Stadium and for those watching the game on television back in Seattle. Demons such as the offense's occasional inability to finish drives, and demons of a defense and secondary that had lost four fourth-quarter leads this season. The Seahawks are a good team on paper, but were also a 3-4 team at this moment, with crushing losses a big part of the equation.

Quarterback Russell Wilson moved around on the sideline, going over to teammates, stressing the positive. Before going onto the field with 6:41 left, Wilson turned to coach Pete Carroll and smiled. "This is what we are here for," Wilson said to his coach.

Promptly and methodically, Wilson drove the Seahawks 79 yards in 17 plays to set up the game-winning field goal with 66 seconds remaining in regulation. Once again, late in the game his legs became the difference, that perfect weapon against a tired defense. It was the 16th game-winning drive of his career. It was the 11th fourth-quarter comeback. Yes, this is a team, and the record is not a quarterback's to claim for himself, but the victory gave Wilson a 40-16 career regular-season record. In the playoffs, he has a 6-2 record and was just one yard short of a second Super Bowl win.

So while many wonder why he became the second-highest-paid quarterback in the league at $21.9 million a year at the time he signed his contract this summer, his performance Sunday reminded everyone he's worth it. Teams that don't have quarterbacks go nowhere, and while the Seahawks' defense has helped Wilson's record as a starter, he has done his part to provide the winning difference plenty of times as well.

"I don't shy away from those moments," Wilson said of the fourth-quarter drives to win. "You look forward to it. We don't either as a collective group on offense, defense and special teams. There is no pressure. There is no fear. So you just believe. The team trusts what you are doing. You just love those moments."

Wilson is an enigma. In news conferences, he often resorts to clichés. You hear, "The separation is in the preparation" and "we're just trying to go 1-0 every week" or "take one play at a time." He concludes every news conference with "Go Hawks."

But his words are his actions.

"He's the consummate competitor always in a positive sense," Carroll said. "He always believes in getting it done. He's talking on the sidelines with six minutes left and saying, 'Hey, this is one of those games, we have to win right now.' He just doesn't waver from that. He has that undying sense that something good will happen. He will go to any lengths to get that done.

"He doesn't do everything right. He's trying to do it but he doesn't get it all right all the time. But you can count on him to give you everything he's got."

Against the Cowboys, he gave the Seahawks everything in the end. On the 17-play drive, he ran four times for 27 yards, exposing his body to hits and stretching out his arms to get first downs. He got the Seahawks to the Cowboys 6-yard line to get up Steven Hauschka's game-winning 24-yard field goal.

Yet the biggest test of his resolve might have been the next-to-last play of the third quarter. Out of shotgun formation on a second-and-6, Wilson was asked to throw a quick pass out of three-step drop to the side. Defensive end Greg Hardy jumped up, tipped the ball and grabbed it for an interception.

Wilson was the only Seahawk who could prevent him from scoring.

"I'm thinking, 'How am I going to get this big dude down?'" Wilson said. "I don't think I've tackled anyone that big before. I squeezed every morsel in my body and my strength just to get him down."

Hardy was stopped by Russell at the Seahawks 16. The Seahawks' defense bailed out the offense by holding Matt Cassel to a three-and-out and a field goal that gave the Cowboys a 12-10 lead.

Wilson is never going to win over a fan base with his stats. Even though his 68.8 percent completion percentage and his 8-yard per attempt average is the best of his career, he rarely throws for more than 250 yards in a game. That's because he rarely throws more than 30 passes a game, in part because when it's not there he'll scramble and take what he can get.

His game is built for winning, not fantasy football.

But there are some improvements evident. Like most teams, the Seahawks have blocking issues. Their second-year right tackle is a converted tight end. They've started converted defensive tackles at guard and center. Their left guard was last year's rookie right tackle. Left tackle Russell Okung missed the Cowboys game with an ankle injury.

Over the past two weeks, Wilson has been working more running plays with handoffs at the line of scrimmage instead of in the shotgun. Against the Cowboys, the line improved its pass protection with more simple alignments and schemes that gave Wilson the best pocket he's had all year. The result was Wilson didn't get sacked after being victimized 31 times in the first seven games. Having a more consistent pocket allowed Wilson to hit tight end Jimmy Graham for seven catches and 75 yards and three near misses that could have put Graham over 100 yards.

Graham said most -- if not all -- of those catches were on short drops by Wilson set up by a solid pocket. It's a process, but the goal is a team and a QB peaking at the right time.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell calls that process "getting Russell Wilson to come alive."

"It takes some time because you need to see how they are playing things," Bevell said. "Sometimes, there are some good things that go to, and sometimes you keep doing what we are doing. Sometimes you need Russell to come alive and sometimes you don't need to."

Bevell said there is no quarterback in football like Wilson.

"You can see how people get frustrated and we just try to champion his cause and use the strengths that he has," Bevell said. "He won way too many games, and we won too many games because of the ability he has for us to not use it."

Wilson has only 16 regular-season losses and the Seahawks were within seven points of winning or tying in 13 of those games. With Wilson, there is always the chance to win. That's what he's paid for.

Inside the huddle

• The Oakland Raiders are a year ahead of schedule in becoming a legitimate AFC wild-card contender. Sunday's 34-20 win over the Jets felt more like a blowout than the final score shows, just like last week's win over San Diego. In both games the Raiders got way ahead and the outcome wasn't in doubt. It's hard to cite the numerous heroes. Mike Tice has done a great job improving the offensive line. Derek Carr has a clean pocket. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are the perfect one-two punch at wide receiver, combining for 12 catches and 148 yards. A great test for the wild card will be next week when they visit the Steelers.

Andy Dalton once again proved how much he has changed and improved as a leader and quarterback. Dalton had an untimely fourth-quarter interception and the Bengals had a field goal blocked, but it was Dalton who stepped up and led the game-winning 45-yard touchdown drive in a 16-10 win over the Steelers. "That's why you play four quarters," Dalton said. At 7-0 and with a three-and-a-half game lead, the Bengals are going to win the AFC North running away. Their roster is healthy. The team is deep. The challenge is whether they can get a No. 2 seed over Denver because New England still looks like the best team.

Ben Roethlisberger was rusty in his return from an MCL injury that is clearly still slowing him down. He completed 28 of 45 passes for 262 yards, but he threw three interceptions and generated only one touchdown drive. This wasn't the 30-point-a-game Big Ben, which isn't surprising at this point. The Steelers entered the game with 15 players on injured lists eating up $20.217 million of cap room. Then they lost halfback Le'Veon Bell to a knee injury; his cap number is $1.032 million. That's almost 15 percent of a salary cap that is already challenged by having to pay Roethlisberger and several other key starters. All the Steelers have to look forward to now is scrambling for a wild card.

• Until Jason Pierre-Paul returns to the field, the Giants will remain vulnerable to fourth-quarter losses as they did in the incredible 52-49 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Tony Romo (36-for-45 for 356 yards and three touchdowns) and Matt Ryan (30-of-46 for 363 and a touchdown) had fourth-quarter comeback wins against the Giants in the first two games. Drew Brees, minus Giants pass-rush pressure, had a game for the ages Sunday, completing 40 of 50 passes for 511 yards and seven touchdowns. "Frustrating," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. They just can't get to QBs in the fourth quarter.

• So much for the Jim Bob Cooter switch on offense for Detroit. The only difference early in the game was more of a commitment to running the ball, but it was when the Lions trailed. The Lions were horrible in the 45-10 loss to Kansas City in London. Matthew Stafford has to take some accountability for the bad game because of his two interceptions and some misfired throws. But the bigger problem was the offensive line. It was once again horrible.

• The Edward Jones Dome isn't doing a good job of helping the campaign to keep the Rams in St. Louis. In one game, fireworks burned the turf and caused a delay. Now for the second consecutive week, a player got injured on the concrete surrounding the field. Last week, Josh McCown of the Browns banged up his shoulder and ribs sliding to the wall near the fans. During Sunday's 27-6 Rams win over San Francisco, halfback Reggie Bush got hurt on a punt return when he was pushed out of bounds and his cleats slid on the cement. It has become a safety problem that needs to be fixed.

• 49ers coach Jim Tomsula has no plan to bench quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but you have to think the organization might go a different direction with him after the season. In NFC West games the past two weeks, he has produced only nine points against Seattle and St. Louis. He's had six touchdown passes in eight games, is completing only 59.3 percent of his passes and, despite his big arm, is averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt. "I'm doing everything I can to win games," Kaepernick said. "Whether they make that change or not, that's their decision."

• Unlike the Steelers, who were 2-2 during Roethlisberger's absence, the Chargers can't overcome their injuries. Chargers coach Mike McCoy counted at least 12 players who were injured during Sunday's 29-26 loss to the Baltimore. Their two highest-paid offensive linemen -- Orlando Franklin and King Dunlap -- were hurt. Skilled players such as Ladarius Green and Stevie Johnson were injured. Corey Liuget suffered an injury. Manti Te'o was inactive.

• It's hard to image how the Ravens' offense can recover from the season-ending loss of Steve Smith to an Achilles tear. Smith was all Joe Flacco had as a receiving weapon this season. Despite playing with a bad back injury, Smith had 46 catches for 670 yards. Surprisingly, Flacco has had his best season for completion percentage at 63.6 but is having one of his worst for yards per attempt at 6.7. "I'm not afraid to say when you have a guy like that what he means to this team, this organization and myself," Flacco said. "What he's won and just the kind of competitor he is."

Jameis Winston continued his strong play in the Buccaneers' 23-20 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons. Although this was the first game he threw for less than 200 yards, this game was his best. He completed 16 of 29 passes for 177 yards, but he committed no turnovers (though one potential INT was dropped). The rookie quarterback who was supposed to throw at least 20 interceptions hasn't had a pick in the past three games. He has seven for the season and the Bucs have a respectable 3-4 record.

• Wow, there are some messy quarterback situations developing. Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets suffered ligament damage in his left thumb and could be out one to three weeks. Geno Smith was inefficient against the Raiders and got banged up. The situation in Cleveland is equally bad. Josh McCown struggles to get through a game without getting hurt and Johnny Manziel might not be the proper backup. The Titans, meanwhile, need to get Marcus Mariota back quickly.