MINNEAPOLIS -- As a 5-foot-11 man playing a position defined by the extra-large likes of Tom Brady and Cam Newton, Russell Wilson was not built to carry a football team to a title. His modest size contributed to the notion that he was more than a game manager, and yet less than the full-fledged franchise player his new franchise-player contract pays him to be.
Wilson was supposed to be the beneficiary of a punishing defense and a running back who had less use for would-be tacklers than he did for reporters who asked about the pain he inflicted on them. Wilson was supposed to be the guy who didn't really win the Super Bowl for the Seattle Seahawks two years ago, and the guy who most definitely lost the Super Bowl for the Seahawks last year, with considerable help from his coach, Pete Carroll, and offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell.
But the balance of in-house power is shifting in Seattle, tilting dramatically toward the quarterback who is growing from a creative and opportunistic scrambler into what he has clearly been over the past three weeks: the best player in the entire league.
Under a slate gray Minnesota sky Sunday, Wilson made a statement equal to the one made by his team at the Vikings' expense. As much as the Seahawks sent a persuasive message to Newton and the Carolina Panthers about their designs on a third consecutive conference title, Wilson announced that he is growing into the kind of superstar who can salvage a dynasty from the rubble of that goal-line collision between his receiver, Ricardo Lockette, and New England's Malcolm Butler, won in a landslide by Mr. Butler.
"This is the best football of his life," Richard Sherman said after Wilson threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 38-7 victory that exposed the Vikings as an opponent ill-equipped for the heavyweight division. Positively glowing at his locker, projecting a vibe best described as the polar opposite of the one he projected following that devastating loss to the Patriots, Sherman had plenty more to say about his quarterback. Of course he did.
"There's no ceiling for this kid right now," the cornerback added. "He's blowing the ceiling off the building right now. He's playing phenomenally. He's doing it with his legs. He's doing it with his arm. He's making smart decisions. He's getting out of the pocket. He's eliminating negative plays. That's what elite quarterbacks do. He's playing at an All-Pro, Pro Bowl level."
And if this keeps up? If Wilson plays like this in concert with a Seattle defense that looked like its not-so-old self in reducing Adrian Peterson to something smaller than a referee's whistle?
"I would think we'd be a pretty scary team," Sherman said.
Be afraid all aspiring contenders. Be very, very afraid. Seattle left the ballpark Sunday as one of the most dangerous 7-5 teams the league has ever seen. The Seahawks have won five of their last six, and with running back Marshawn Lynch out (temporarily) and tight end Jimmy Graham out (for the year) they can now count on Wilson to make that $87.6 million extension appear to be something of a bargain.
In his past three games, Wilson has thrown 11 touchdown passes against no interceptions, has completed 66 of 86 attempts and has rushed for another score. He still uses his vision and athleticism to his advantage when on the run, but is playing better from the pocket than ever before. Case in point: After a penalty nullified his 53-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, Wilson responded on the very next play with (what else?) a 53-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, who later conceded he ran the wrong route on the play.
"It looked like the right route to me," said Wilson, who took a hit around the knees on delivery.
The quarterback had already pounced on a Minnesota mistake (Teddy Bridgewater's overthrow was picked off by Earl Thomas) with a 20-yard scoring pass to Baldwin to make it 21-0, and to leave everyone watching with the unmistakable feeling that (A) the 8-3 Vikings were in way over their heads; and (B) the Seahawks were no longer completely haunted by Wilson's interception in the Super Bowl or, for that matter, by this year's 2-4 start.
Wilson would talk up his offensive line and explain that the collective character of his team rose above the voids left by Graham and Lynch, whom the quarterback called "one of a kind." But he wasn't kidding anyone who has been paying attention. Yes, Sherman and the Seahawks can still cover and hit with the best of 'em, and yes, Thomas Rawls can sometimes plow through tackles with the ferocity of a Lynch or a modern-day Earl Campbell.
Doesn't matter. This team now belongs to a quarterback who has a credible chance to join Bob Griese of Famer as the only starters to reach three consecutive Super Bowls with at least one title to his name.
"He's unbelievable to watch," Baldwin said. "He's just playing amazing right now. ... When he's able to stay in the pocket and make his reads and deliver the ball the way he's been doing the past 12 quarters, he becomes so deadly because he still has that ability to get out of the pocket and work his magic. ... In my opinion Russell Wilson has been playing like the best quarterback in the league the past 12 quarters."
Asked if he believes Wilson can overtake Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Newton and the rest as the NFL's best quarterback over the long haul, Baldwin said, "Oh, without a doubt. He's always had the potential. He's always had the work ethic. It was just getting there."
He has gotten there. Wilson ran a quarterbacking clinic that included his usual daring pirouettes out of trouble, and the kind of passing accuracy that dazzled the young and hopelessly overmatched Bridgewater. When Seattle was done with this all-three-phases demolition, the Vikings were so unnerved that their best player, Peterson, accused Mike Zimmer of getting "outcoached" and "in so many different areas." Ouch.
On exit, the Seahawks were too giddy to care. They marched into a locker room filled with the sounds of celebratory music (Wilson screamed twice on his way in) and they basked in the promise of what's yet to come. Carroll, American's oldest teenager, has built a program to rival his dynastic USC Trojans, and he doesn't need to worry about NCAA detectives this time around.
Can the 2015 Seahawks fully recover from their heartbreak the way the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs recovered from theirs, the way the 2012 Texas Rangers didn't recover from theirs? If nothing else, the new and improved Wilson helps their odds.
"This is the best football of his life," Sherman said. "This is a quarterback coming into his own. ...This is him moving up into that elite tier."
This is Russell Wilson becoming an undisputed franchise player, and not just a guy who's paid like one, at the best possible time.