Russell Wilson has 26 touchdown passes through his first seven games -- the second most in league history --- but the Seattle Seahawks quarterback became the talking point for a play where he didn't throw the ball in Sunday's win over the San Francisco 49ers. In the fourth quarter of Seattle's win, Wilson ran with the ball and faked a slide attempt to gain a few extra yards. He was hit in the helmet by 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward once he actually did slide.
Ward was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness on the 4-yard scramble by Wilson, as the Seahawks were facing a second-and-6 with just under four minutes remaining. Seattle, up by 10, was awarded an automatic first down and scored a touchdown four plays later to seal the 37-27 victory.
The 49ers were confused by the call due to the deception by Wilson. Kyle Shanahan wasn't sure how Ward was supposed to defend on the play.
"I mean, you can just give him the first down, which happens a ton because guys are scared as can be to get those penalties," Shanahan said. "They're not trying to be cheap and they're not trying to get fined. It's a big point in the game if they get a first down, it's pretty much over and they're right there at the sticks.
"He is very good at what he did, waiting until the last second. It's just a huge challenge that not just our team has, the whole NFL has that. It's a tough play and I understand why we do it, you have to protect the quarterback and protect everyone, but it's very tough for our guys. I thought they tried to hold on as well as they can."
Here's a look at the play.
If Russell Wilson wants the protection of a sliding QB that’s given himself up, he should be required to make it plainly obvious that’s what he’s doing. The added fake and last-second slide essentially baits Jimmie Ward into initiating a tackle. #49ers #SFvsSEA pic.twitter.com/ggKUpNQjwh— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) November 2, 2020
If the flag wasn't thrown, Seattle would have faced a third-and-2 at the San Francisco 24-yard line. The 49ers could have kept it a two score game, but the opportunity to steal a victory was still a long shot regardless of the penalty. Niners defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, who's currently on injured reserve, was confused by the ruling.
What do you do in that situation????? Cmon.....— Solomon Thomas (@SollyThomas90) November 2, 2020
Niners defensive end Arik Armstead couldn't figure out what the 49ers should've done, either.
"Obviously they are going to protect quarterbacks," Armstead said. "Going into the game we know that. It's a tough situation and they are bang-bang plays that you just have to try to avoid. Jimmie plays fast and he was just playing hard and got the penalty there. Going into the game, you just have to be cautious they are going to call those type of things."
Ward was unavailable for comment after the game. It's certainly not clear what defenders can do better in such situations -- if anything.