RENTON, Wash. (AP) — The auditorium is usually reserved for coach Pete Carroll during the season and the occasional first-round draft pick being introduced in the spring.
After months of standing behind a small circular table and in front of a makeshift cereal box-shaped backdrop, Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson got the auditorium Thursday — with the big podium, the microphone stands and an entire wall adorned with the Seahawks logo.
"A change-up," Wilson said as he entered the room.
He's certainly earned the big stage after going from Seattle's third-round pick to a starting quarterback who's won five straight games and seven of his last eight going into the playoffs.
"He's allowed us to do everything we could think of. We trust him in everything that we're calling," Carroll said. "It doesn't matter what play it is, what concept it is, we trust him to be able to handle it. If it gets off of the practice field on to game day, then we trust that he could do anything. That's a wonderful feeling for a coach that you can trust your quarterback like that."
Wilson will go into his first playoff game Sunday at Washington coming off one of the finest regular seasons ever by a Seattle quarterback. While passer rating has its flaws as a statistical measure, Wilson's final rating of 100 is the best ever for any Seahawks signal-caller.
That would be the best mark ever for a rookie quarterback if not for Sunday's playoff opponent — Washington QB Robert Griffin III — barely bettering Wilson's final total.
Wilson did get the better of Griffin in touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26.
More important, Wilson led Seattle to 11 wins, becoming the third quarterback in franchise history to win at least 11 games in a season, joining Matt Hasselbeck (13-3 in 2005) and Dave Kreig (12-4 in 1984). That record becomes more impressive when considering Wilson got just a third of the snaps during offseason minicamps and early in training camp as he attempted to win the job in competition with Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson.
Jackson was traded and spent the year as a backup in Buffalo. Flynn didn't see the field until Week 14 when Seattle led 45-0 on its way to a blowout victory.
And Wilson is in the middle of the offensive rookie of the year discussion with Griffin and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
"I didn't come here to be a backup quarterback or a third-string quarterback. I came to be a starter for a long time, and that's my mindset. That's always been my mindset, that competitive edge that I try to bring to the table," Wilson said. "I think the great quarterbacks — and I'm trying to work to get there — if you really look at and I always study the best quarterbacks to play the game, they have tremendous leadership, they have great attention to detail, and they have that competitive relentless nature where they are just competitive all the time. I think that's what's helped me a little bit."
Among the rookies, most of the attention this season has gone to Luck and Griffin — and rightfully so. Tucked away in the Northwest, the spotlight only started to find Wilson a month ago after he led consecutive long drives at the end of regulation and again in overtime when Seattle won 23-17 at Chicago. Wilson had his finest day as a pro, throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Almost universally, those final moments in Chicago are being referenced by Wilson and his teammates as a turning point of the season. The Seahawks proceeded to outscore their final four opponents by a combined 170-63 margin.
"That was huge. To be able to do that in the type of circumstances that we were in was pretty awesome," Wilson said. "That really pushed our offense forward and pushed our defense forward to have confidence in what we do."
While this is his first time in the NFL playoffs, the feel and sense around the team's facility reminded Wilson of his preparations a year ago when he was getting ready to lead Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, a game the Badgers lost 45-38. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn't hesitate earlier in the week when asked if he was worried about Wilson getting too wrapped up in the noise of the postseason.
"I just expect him to be very poised, have everything under control and play well," he said.