As Demaryius Thomas came down with the football just inches inside the back of the end zone, the raucous roar that typically courses through CenturyLink Field suddenly disappeared, replaced by the haunting sound of 68,447 Seattle Seahawks fans -- and perhaps some of the home team's coaches and players -- simultaneously inhaling a half-breath's worth of anxiety.
"You know, I wasn't stressed at all," Wilson recalled Sunday evening, near the beginning of a phone conversation which fortified my long-held suspicion that the Seahawks' third-year quarterback is straight out of central casting for Delightfully Awesome Face Of A Pro Football Franchise.
"I was looking forward to the moment. I thought, 'We're gonna win this coin flip and then go down and score a touchdown and win the game.' That's what championship football's all about. You've got to bring some heart to the game of football, some passion, and this was a perfect time. These are the moments that I live for."
It wasn't surprising that Wilson seized the moment, coolly keeping Manning in bystander mode while guiding the Seahawks on a 13-play, 80-yard, game-ending touchdown drive. To quote his far more loquacious teammate, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, Wilson is "an incredibly poised player in very adverse conditions," and that's what ultimately doomed the Broncos to defeat on the first possession of overtime.
Even more captivating, however, is Wilson's continued advancement toward potential superstar status. At this point, he's not just a regional treasure. As a besieged football community, we need him -- and people like him -- more than ever before.
This young NFL season has featured an inordinate share of obvious off-the-field negativity, from the surfacing of the Ray Rice video two weeks ago to the ensuing questions about commissioner Roger Goodell's job security to the shocking Adrian Petersonchild-abuse indictment). To suggest that the league currently has an image problem is like saying that there's a bit of political gridlock in Washington.
Yet for all the deserved fretting over domestic-violence issues and other behavior that reflects poorly on the sport, there are hundreds of NFL players who conduct themselves admirably and contribute mightily to their respective communities, and whose efforts many of us tend to tune out or ignore.
When it comes to high-profile good guys, it's tough to top Wilson, who spends his off days visiting patients at Seattle Children's Hospital, has an indefatigable work ethic that rivals that of Manning and has displayed a preternatural maturity level since entering the league as an undersized third-round draft pick and becoming an unlikely rookie starter.
In interviews, Wilson is unfailingly polite and intelligent, but the chances of him saying something impudent or controversial are roughly the same as those of exiled L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling landing a talk show on BET. So when I told him I thought the sport could use some good-guy mojo at this particular juncture, his response was predictably modest.
"Some of what's gone on is disappointing, but you can't expect everybody to be perfect," he said. "I'm not perfect, either. All you can do is pray for everybody in that situation and have faith that there will be a healing process, a time for forgiveness and, hopefully, a time for moving forward.
"I think there are a lot of great things players do in our community, and I try to do my part, to help people out and to be a great teammate. I'm so blessed to be in this situation, and I want to try to influence people in a positive way."
Because of his evolving excellence on the field, he has our attention -- especially after his latest performance against a Broncos defense that has clearly been the beneficiary of offseason upgrades. Three players brought in by general manager John Elway to fortify the AFC champions (pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward) made impact plays against the Seahawks and helped instill a toughness that Denver lacked in its embarrassing, 43-8 defeat in Super Bowl XLVIII last February.
As in that game, which began with a mistimed shotgun snap that sailed over Manning's head and out of the end zone for a safety, the Broncos had to cope with some early misfortune, as running back Montee Ball fumbled away the ball on their first play from scrimmage, leading to a Seattle field goal. The Seahawks led 17-3 at halftime and into the fourth quarter before Manning snapped Denver's offense out of its slumber and set up the fantastic finish.
"I definitely think we're a better team than we were last year," Wilson said, mentioning dynamic wideout Percy Harvin (injured for most of 2013) but leaving out the most integral player of all: Himself. Simply put, the 2014 Seahawks may be superior to the 2013 champs because their quarterback has made a sharp jump from Year 2 to Year 3.
Mostly, Wilson's growth manifests in an enhanced mastery of the Seahawks' offense at a higher degree of consistency. His skill set remains notable and glaring. The dude throws a deep ball to die for, as we saw once again Sunday with his glorious, 39-yard strike to Ricardo Lockette, despite tight coverage from Talib, to give Seattle a 10-3 lead with 3:05 left in the first half.
He also combines excellent mobility with a terrific pocket presence and an uncanny sense of when to buy time via Fran Tarkentonesque scrambles and when to take off and charge into the secondary. He skews heavily toward the former -- scrambling to throw, rather than to run -- and saves the latter for pivotal moments. In overtime, he converted the only two third downs he faced during the game-winning drive on outside-the-pocket runs.
In completing 24 of his 34 passes, Wilson spread the ball to 10 different receivers. An 11th also got into the mix: On the first play after Ball's first-quarter fumble, Seahawks wideout Jermaine Kearse took the ball on a reverse, pulled up and floated a 17-yard pass to a target who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch and held on while absorbing a big hit from Broncos safety Rahim Moore ... kid by the name of Russell Wilson.
"How shocking is that?" Wilson said, laughing.
Numbers don't usually tell the full story of Wilson's proficiency, but here are some to consider: He's now 17-1 at home during his career and, at 26-9 overall, is only eight wins shy of surpassing Dan Marino and Matt Ryan for the most victories for a quarterback in his first three seasons.
That singular pick came in the fourth quarter Sunday, after the Broncos had closed to within 17-5 on a safety and pinned the Seahawks at their own 14 on a punt. Wilson tried to force a ball to Harvin down the right sideline, but Talib deflected it to teammate Chris Harris, whose 13-yard return ended at the Seattle 19. That broke Wilson's streak of 97 passes without an interception and set up a three-yard shovel pass from Manning to Julius Thomas for a touchdown.
Wilson, of course, was right in his element. Once the coin toss went Seattle's way, he knew a touchdown would clinch the game and deny Manning the chance to do any further damage. Avoiding the temptation to take a shot upfield, Wilson methodically marched the Seahawks into scoring position and let Lynch beast his way into the end zone from six yards out.
"You just trust what you see," Wilson said. "No need to force it -- you just play the game the way it's supposed to be played, and good things happen."
And when good things happen to good guys? For a league in the midst of a tumultuous run of negative publicity, there's nothing wrong with that.