2nd rounder establishing himself
Facing a 4th-and-17 with under a minute left, the Seattle Seahawks needed just one more stop to send the New England Patriots home wet and battered. Tom Brady, who managed to throw for 395 yards on the day, came up three yards short of extending the Patriots’ chances to upend an emotional Seahawks comeback with some last minute magic of his own.
However, that comeback bid was halted by none other than rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, when he tackled Wes Welker short of the first down — his team leading 14th tackle of the game.
As Wagner got up from the tackle, he sprinted towards the Patriots’ endzone, waving his hands in the air to the loud roar of the 12th man whose voices, at this point, were most likely running on empty.
Watching the Seahawks sprint up and down the sidelines, run all over the field, and bask in the glory that the 12th man provides, epitomized the emotion that this team showed during a gutsy, never-say-die performance against the three-time World Champions.
And who better to seal the comeback, 24-23 victory over the Patriots than Wagner, the second round pick out of Utah State, who set the Seahawks’ rookie record for tackles in a game.
Flying Under The Radar
The last time the Seahawks invested an early round draft pick on a linebacker they produced one of the biggest busts in recent draft memory. Aaron Curry, the butt of nearly every recent Seahawks joke, was ran out of town last season and sent to Oakland for a late round draft pick that actually turned into J.R. Sweezy.
Each and every week, we heard Curry’s name on every telecast, radio broadcast, and national publication, and not because his results were positive — it was because he was God awful. Blown coverages, a serious lack of motivation, and countless missed tackles made his time in Seattle short-lived.
But this time around, we’re not hearing about the uber-athletic, speedy, tackle machine hailing out the lesser-known WAC. Which, at this point in his career, is a good thing.
When you ask someone to rattle off names on the Seahawks defense, one of the last one’s you’ll hear is Wagner name.
Because he’s doing everything he’s supposed to do on nearly every play. He flies around, makes the game look effortless, and doesn’t do anything that will make fans, broadcasters, or the coaches to single him out in negative ways.
Wagner is quietly becoming a force on this defense, a rookie leader, and a guy that everyone can count on to make the big tackle at the most important junctions of the game.
That’s what he did last week against Cam Newton, and he continued his superb play on Sunday, capping it off by sending the Patriots home with their heads drooped as he buried Welker into the turf on 4th-and-game.
Gaining Confidence, Providing Results
When Pete Carroll made the decision to punt the ball away facing a 4th-and-3 in their own territory with just 3:20 left in the game it put a lot of pressure on a defense that had been pushed down the field all day.
Yet, with three timeouts and the two-minute warning to go, Carroll had faith in his defense to come up big one final time. Wagner was asked about that decision to rely on the defense after the game:
“I wasn’t surprised. As a defense, we want the game on our shoulders,” Wagner said. “We have the confidence in us; We know Pete has the confidence in us.”
That confidence paid off and it’s becoming more and more apparent that this Seahawks defense is special, and on Sunday, we may have seen another budding star emerge at the middle linebacker position.
As previously mentioned, Wagner recorded 14 tackles against the Patriots, setting a Seahawks rookie record for tackles in a game. To put that in perspective, no other rookie in Seahawks history has recorded more than 10 tackles in a game according to this tweet by @HawkBlogger:
Bobby Wagner’s 14 tackles breaks a Seahawks rookie record for tackles. No other Seahawks rookie has had as many as 10 in a game.
— Brian Nemhauser (@hawkblogger) October 15, 2012
Through six games, Wagner has 43 tackles (27 solo), 1.5 sacks, 4 stuffs, and countless plays that statistics can’t begin to acknowledge.
Thrust Into a Leadership Role
As young as the Seahawks’ defense is, it’s still uncommon to have a rookie at the center of it all and expecting him to act as a leader on a consistent basis.
Wagner is reversing that notion.
Sure, he’s not the clear cut captain on the league’s number one defense, but for a linebacking core that was a mild question mark heading into the season with the loss of David Hawthorne, he’s erased concerns about a relying on a rookie at the middle linebacker position.
His speed on the edge is out-of-this-world but he’s played a vital role stopping the run, as well.
Wagner’s progression is product of his own preparation and his knack for the game of football. It seems as though he has already acclimated to the speed of the NFL, and he’s reinforcing the genius draft tactics of Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
We’re just six weeks into the season and it’s too early to make bold predictions about the development of a rookie player but what we’ve seen out of Wagner is something special in it’s self.
In a defense stock-piled with Pro Bowl-caliber players, you aren’t going to hear Wagner’s name among the NFL’s elite, but in time, remember this performance against the New England Patriots — because Bobby Wagner might have just threw his own coming out party.