By Danny O'Neil
Russell Wilson stepped on stage without the hint of a limp, his lilac dress shirt pressed and tie knotted perfectly. He even smiled before the interview began, giving no clue of the abject beating he had endured for much of Sunday's game against the Buccaneers.
The same could be said for his team after Seattle's 27-24 victory in overtime at CenturyLink Field.
Wilson – like his team – survived. Barely. Or escaped. Or persevered or whatever other word you can think of to describe a comeback that was almost as unbelievable as the fact that Seattle found itself down 21-0 at home in the first half against a winless Tampa Bay team.
The game embodied the paradox of this Seahawks season as the results on the field belie some deeper trends, from a quarterback who is getting hit too much to a suddenly porous run defense to the reality that Seattle is developing calluses on its backside from the sheer number of nailbiters this season.
And after all that, Seattle is 8-1 with a quarterback who completed 15 of 18 passes he attempted in the second half and overtime, guiding Seattle to the largest comeback victory in franchise history, a feat the head coach himself described in dubious terms.
"We ain't real proud of that," Pete Carroll said afterward. "Because it put us (down) 21-0 to break that record."
It wasn't just the size of the deficit that was alarming, but the reasons behind it. The Seahawks gave up 200 yards rushing for the second consecutive week, something that hadn't happened since November 2002. They allowed a touchdown on a jump pass and also let some rookie running back named Mike James rush for 158 yards, the most the Seahawks had allowed in a game in a full year.
But the single biggest concern after this game was the fact that Wilson was – once again – beaten with a regularity that is generally reserved for a dead horse. The difference this game was that Wilson showed the result of those hits. He got up flexing his left hand after one play in the fourth quarter and later that drive was limping after he was hit low by a Tampa Bay defender.
"He got pounded again today," Carroll said. "More than we would like. He got banged up from it, and I'm hoping we can protect him better."
That has been the chorus for more than a month now, though, and while starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini are expected to return to practice this week, there's still a question about the toll this season is taking on Wilson in a strictly physical sense.
Wilson took a while simply to reach the postgame press conference on Sunday, and once he arrived, one of the most pressing questions was how he felt.
"I feel good," Wilson said. "I got hit a few times, obviously. I got hit pretty good a couple times here and there. But you just keep getting back up and keep playing. That's the thing. I try to be as tough as I can be."
Wilson has been more than tough enough so far as he stared down a double-digit deficit for the second time this season, Seattle beating the Bucs in overtime in a game that was oh-so-similar to the comeback in Houston back in Week 4.
The two times Wilson was intercepted Sunday turned out to be merely a footnote to this game, one more obstacle for Seattle and its quarterback to overcome at the finish.
"The poise that he brings to those situations is impeccable," Carroll said. "The athleticism and the ability to make plays and the preparation that gets him to the position to make the plays, he's doing everything we can possibly do.
"I wouldn't want anybody else there."
Sunday was just another example of that as Wilson led the team to a win in overtime for the third time in the last 14 regular-season games. And as Wilson stood at the podium smiling, it was possible to convince yourself that the quarterback – like his 8-1 team – was no worse for wear.
Anyone who watched the entirety of Sunday's game knew better, though. And as remarkable as Wilson was after halftime – and he was incredible – if Seattle doesn't find a way to correct some of the more troubling trends, the Seahawks and their quarterback are going to get caught in a situation they can't survive.