The Seahawks surprised me this year and that's hard to do. I've been around the NFL since 1987 and feel like I can see most things coming. But the Seahawks did some things this year that truly caught me off guard:
• They had a chance to win every single game they played in.
• Golden Tate scored a game-winning touchdown on an impossible Hail Mary pass on "Monday Night Football".
• They blew out the Arizona Cardinals 58-0.
• They beat one of the best teams in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers, by four touchdowns.
A surprising team is a sum of its parts, so here are just three of a number of players that were truly phenomenal this year:
Russell Wilson. At this point last year, the most urgent question on Seahawks fans' minds was "what are we going to do at quarterback?" That question wasn't answered until March 18 when the Seahawks signed Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn.
The real answer, of course, came on April 27 when the Hawks drafted Russell Wilson in the third round. From that time forward, I witnessed the meteoric rise of the most surprising player I've ever seen. I was on hand in Kansas City calling the third preseason game from the booth with Steve Raible as Wilson took over as the starting quarterback for this team. He took the Hawks on six scoring drives that game and never looked back. Wilson did not have gaudy numbers that night but it was clear that this kid was in control.
Yes, Wilson ran the read option and gained over 600 yards in his 18 appearances this season, but what astounded me was his accuracy as a pocket passer. Those on the outside of this team may think of Wilson as the new breed of running quarterback. He showed an amazing elusiveness in the open field on the scramble and QB keep, but his pocket presence and ability to throw a deep-out as accurately as any quarterback in the league was stunning. Receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice rave over the catch-ability of his deep ball.
This cannot be overstated – we're talking about a rookie third-round draft choice who most pundits thought would never make it in the NFL.
On top of this, Wilson's leadership qualities are top-shelf. All year long I teased about his canned responses during postgame interviews. But it's that consistency of character that allowed him to lead as a rookie. Anyone in this town that doesn't love Russell Wilson soon will.
Richard Sherman. Following the 2011 season, three of the Seahawks' four defensive backs played in the Pro Bowl. None of them was named Richard Sherman. During training, camp when questioned about who was the best, those three Pro Bowlers – Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Brandon Browner – all agreed: Richard Sherman.
If Sherman isn't the best football player in the NFL right now, he may be the most valuable. The big cornerback lives large, talks big and backs it up on the field. He's known to wag his finger at opposing sidelines and receivers as if to scold them for trying to throw his way.
Sherman ended the season with eight interceptions, two touchdowns and led the league in passes defensed with 32. If you watched Sherman play in college, you may find this hard to believe. He was clearly talented but there was no indication two years ago that he would be the best cornerback in the league within his first two seasons. It's a crime that he was not voted onto the NFC Pro Bowl team.
His bravado and brashness became legend when he pulled off the impossible late in the season. He stood toe-to-toe with the NFL and won. His appeal of a suspension for allegedly taking Adderall was shocking to anyone that has witnessed the league steamroll over everyone. What he accomplished was revolutionary and will most likely change the process for drug testing in the NFL.
Bobby Wagner. Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner had four interceptions this year ... the end.
That's all you need to know about the second-round draft choice out of Utah State. He was a tackle machine and by the end of the year was left on the field for every situation the defense faced. But getting interceptions in the NFL is ridiculously difficult. The knowledge and instinct it takes to intercept an NFL quarterback usually comes in year three or four for most linebackers.
What struck me was his steady improvement week after week. In the beginning he made rookie mistakes that you would expect, but what was unexpected was his rapid development before our eyes. At the beginning of the year most thought that K.J. Wright would call the huddle, but Wagner answered every question about his leadership skills and quickly became the quarterback of the stingiest defense in the league.
The bitterness of Sunday's 30-28 loss to the Falcons may linger a little longer than usual for most. But 10 draft choices and a field of free agents may offer even bigger surprises for next year.