CLEVELAND, Ohio — If the Browns need a reminder of just how good Russell Wilson heading into tomorrow’s big game against the 4-1 Seahawks, they need only watch his magical touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett in the back left corner of the end zone during their 30-29 victory victory over the Rams last Thursday night — over and over again.
“I didn’t know what he was doing with it,’’ coach Pete Carroll admitted on a conference call. “I was surprised by how exquisite the result was. It was just an amazing play in the littlest amount of space. You really had to have a really good imagination to figure that was going to happen, which he does and Tyler does, too. Those guys do have some magic when they hook up.”
According to Next Gen Stats, the eye-popping TD was the most improbable connection of the last two seasons, with a 6.3% chance of being completed. It was also the second-most improbable in the Next Gen Stats era.
But anyone who’s seen it knows it defied all the laws of physics, football and reality. Wilson, flushed to his left and scrambling more than 24 yards on the play, appeared to be throwing the ball away, but Lockett flashed into the back corner in the last millisecond, and Wilson dropped it into his hands, in the minuscule window between the sideline, the end line and safety Eric Weddle, where Lockett amazingly kept his toes inbounds.
“I actually asked Tyler about that play,’’ said Browns safety Damarious Randall, who picked Wilson off twice in a Packers victory in 2016. “Impressive. I don't even think that they can redo that on a video game to be honest with you. That was a pretty cool play to watch.”
Of course, such plays don’t happen by accident, even though it looked like one. A six-time Pro Bowler, Wilson practices them during the week and envisions them regularly.
“I think about Steph Curry and how he shoots a basketball -- that’s how I want to throw a football, you know," Wilson said after that game. “Put it on the money. Make some crazy throws. Make some crazy plays."
The Seahawks couldn’t decide which was more unbelievable - the toss or the catch.
"Tyler's a magician when it comes to the toe tap," receiver Jaron Brown said. "Mr. Toe Tap, that's what we're going to call him now."
Here's a breakdown of what made this play so improbable...#LARvsSEA | #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/JvPss7r9Qx— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 4, 2019
Just so happens, the Browns have to try to defend plays like that Mr. Improbable TD when they’re coming off their worst defensive performance of the season in a 31-3 loss to the 49ers.
"That was one of the best plays of the year up till now,’’ Myles Garrett said. “Guys got to keep on playing. They've got to keep on rushing until he's completely down, and make sure when you have him wrapped up, you try to get the ball out because if you don't, then he's going to find a way to escape and he's going to find someone eventually.
“You've got to plaster on the backend because you never know. You think the play is over. You think you've got two guys on him and he slips out and you're guy is running free and he finds him and hits him. Quick six."
Browns safety Jermaine Whitehead felt for Weddle, who couldn’t have done any better on the play.
“For him to extend it to the very edge of the field and connect on that play just shows you how great of an arm and quarterback he is,’’ he said. “We’re coming into the game wanting to anticipate those situations, so we don’t plan on taking a second off or looking back at the quarterback and the guy getting away from us. We plan on having our eyes on our guys and playing until we hear the echo of the whistle.’’
Carroll said Wilson expects to make plays like that. It’s one of the reasons he’s NFL’s highest-rated quarterback in the NFL with a 126.3 rating, with a league-high 12 touchdowns passes and no interceptions — one four QBs this season without an INT.
“First, he’s really talented,’’ said Carroll. “He’s a high-talented athlete. The most significant aspect of it is his belief in himself. He believes that those things are going to happen and he’s capable of doing it. He sees the opportunity where maybe other people do not. For instance on the play you are talking about, how many guys would have ever thought that there was a chance to complete that ball? He believed it and took a shot at it, and they pulled it off.”
Carroll has seen Wilson play some incredible football over the years, including his Super Bowl rout of the Broncos after the 2013 season. But none better than he’s playing this season.
“He’s the best that he’s ever been right now,’’ said Carroll. “I think he’ll be that again next year as long as he continues to drives himself as he does. He’s a great communicator, and he works great with his coaches. As long as all that stuff is working in harmony, then he is going to continue to improve. There’s no reason that you get there and that is all there is. You keep working. You keep finding ways, you make more sense of things and you get more consistent. He is the best that he’s been.”
Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson knows exactly what the Browns are up against in Wilson on Sunday. He played with him in 2017, and saw firsthand how a champion operates.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory when you watch film,’’ Richardson said. “Great outside the pocket. True escape artist, second to none. Put him next underneath (former NFL QB) Michael Vick for real as far as getting out of the pocket. I was his teammate before. They train. They practice during the periods for him to escape out of the pocket and stuff like that and bad situations. True leader. He comes to work every day with the mindset that he’s winning the day. I know what he is about, and it is going to be tough.”
Richardson acknowledged that facing Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in Week 4 helped somewhat in preparation for the elusive Wilson.
“Just with the speed wise,’’ he said. “Lamar is a little bit faster, but as far as shiftiness, Russell is right there, too. Especially in the pocket coming around the corner, he is hard to get a hand on him. He is always looking downfield making plays, a little more experienced in that note than Lamar. Honestly, an elite quarterback.”
Richardson saw every day in practice what Wilson can do, so the TD pass of the season to Lockett didn’t shock him as much as some others.
“Honestly, just his capability of making plays on the run,’’ he said. “He can throw the ball 60 yards down the field right in the breadbasket to whoever’s open or he throws them open. He finds the open receiver if it’s a little dump pass. He’s creative like that ad-libbing plays and stuff like that. Just have to plaster and get to him.”
Despite the Browns facing Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s now 12-2, Randall believes Wilson is the best QB they’ve faced this season.
“Russell is one of the most talented quarterbacks this league has ever seen,’’ he said. “I'm definitely looking forward to playing him. I’ve faced him a lot whenever I was obviously in Green Bay. Just kind of looking forward."
Randall acknowledged that the 5-11 Wilson can be hard to keep an eye on at times.
"For me, it's just a little harder to see him in the pocket whenever I'm in the middle of the field,’’ he said. “So you can't really tell everything he's looking at because I really don't see him that much. But the ball gets to where it needs to go on time. He definitely can hide behind some linemen and just pop out and throw a 65-yard bomb.’’
Likewise, it makes Randall’s eyes wide like there were in in 2016 when he swiped those two passes.
“That also means more opportunity, more opportunity at the ball because he is one of those quarterbacks that'll give you a 50-50 chance to make a play,’’ he said.
Whitehead will also be out to break Wilson’s streak of 174 passes without an interception — 29 shy of breaking his own club record with 203.
“There are opportunities,’’ he said. “He definitely gives us opportunities to make plays on the ball. With him scrambling like that, he definitely takes some chances and they win a lot of those chances. He believes in his guys on the 50-50 ball, but I think we’ve got some talented DBs in our room that’s going to go up and compete for those balls at that moment.’’
Whitehead noted that “there’s no 3-4 second clock with him. Once the plays breaks down, that’s usually when the play actually starts. Those guys get to scrambling around, some guy will come back to the ball, somebody will go deep for the ball and he’s able to connect with each one of those guys on different plays and Lockett has been an outlet for him in that area, as well as the tight end (Will Dissly) and (rookie receiver D.K.) Metcalf, so they just bring a lot to the table outside of the first four seconds of the play.’’
Garrett, who probably won’t face four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown who’s doubtful with a biceps injury, knows he’ll have to try to keep Wilson in the pocket as much as possible. Wilson has also already been sacked almost three times a game, and will likely be without Brown and starting right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) this week.
“He’s a better passer out of the pocket than when he’s in the pocket, so when you thought you had him corralled, he’s able to elude sacks and tackles and gets out, directs traffic and he’s able to throw it downfield and make big plays,’’ Garrett said. “And he’s also [able] to scramble and get yards himself if need be. He’s the real deal, and he’s a complete quarterback.”
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