Sunday, 16 December 2012

Rookie QB Wilson, Seahawks blow out Bills in Toronto

Russell Wilson has the Seattle Seahawks on a historic roll.

The rookie quarterback rushed for three TDs and threw for another as Seattle steamrolled past the Buffalo Bills 50-17 on Sunday afternoon. It marked the second straight week the Seahawks had scored 50 or more points, making them just the third NFL team ever accomplish the feat and first since 1950.

"We're definitely clicking well," Wilson said. "Guys are just playing great football, that's what it really comes down to, guys making awesome plays and just making the consistent plays.

"You have to be consistent in this game and we're actually doing that right now."

Wilson, a 2012 third-round pick, thrilled the Rogers Centre gathering of 40,770 by becoming the first player in NFL history to register three rushing TDs and one passing in a half in staking Seattle to a 31-17 lead. He guided the Seahawks (9-5), who wore new wolf grey jerseys, to their fifth win in six games and assured the club of its first winning season since it went 10-6 in 2007.

Last week, Seattle defeated Arizona 58-0.

Wilson finished 14-of-23 passing for 205 yards and added 92 yards on nine carries. The Seahawks' defence also got in the act, forcing three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) as Earl Thomas returned a pick 57 yards for a touchdown.

Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll couldn't praise his rookie quarterback enough.

"You can see now we're really playing offence with Russell," Carroll said. "For a long time we were just trying to get our offence going and not screw it up and make sure he could keep growing and taking positive steps.

"Well, we're past that now. We know whatever we're calling, something good can happen. He's got it nailed. I'm thrilled about what he's going, more than surprised."

Both Carroll and Wilson said playing in Toronto was a very positive experience.

"It was cool to hear the [Canadian] anthem," said Carroll. "We tried to make the most of it and enjoy the heck out of it and fortunately we had a real cool win, too."

Added Wilson: "It was pretty cool to play in Toronto, especially for me, it was pretty awesome. All the 12th men, the fans, the Canadian fans there were so many of them here today and that's pretty cool."

But Rogers Centre continues to be a black hole for Buffalo (5-9), which fell to 1-4 in regular-season games here since the inception of the Bills Toronto Series in 2008. And it could've been a lot worse as Seattle's Leon Washington had an 86-yard punt return TD late in the third nullified by an illegal block before the replay confirmed Sidney Rice didn't get both feet down on a five-yard touchdown catch in the fourth.

To add insult to injury, Buffalo was officially eliminated from playoff contention, extending their league-high post-season drought to 13 years.

"We played bad, we played poorly," said Bills head coach Chad Gailey, already on the hotseat in Buffalo before Sunday's lopsided loss. "If you play poorly against a good football team you're going to look extremely bad.

"We played poorly and we looked extremely bad. We did."

Marshawn Lynch contributed to Buffalo's woes, rushing for 113 yards and a TD in his first game against his former team since the Bills dealt their 2007 first-round selection to Seattle in 2010.

But it was Wilson who provided the early fireworks before a Toronto gathering that sported a myriad of NFL team jerseys, including plenty wearing Seahawks' colours. The five-foot Wilson became the first quarterback to register three first-half rushing TDs since September 2000 when Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper did so versus the Chicago Bears.

Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 21-of-38 passing for 217 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble. Stevie Johnson had eight catches for 115 yards and a TD while C.J. Spiller added 103 yards rushing with a touchdown.

Fitzpatrick feels badly for the heat Gailey is taking.

"I obviously do not feel great about the way we played but especially for a guy that has given so many guys in the lockerroom opportunities.

"We played poorly and it reflects poorly on him. It just eats me up. I know it eats other guys up as well."

None of the seven Bills' Toronto Series games under the original five-year deal have been a sellout at Rogers Centre, which has a seating capacity of 54,000 for football. Last month, 53,028 fans watched the Toronto Argonauts beat the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th Grey Cup game here.

But the Bills will continue playing games here as there's talk a new five-year agreement will be announced once Buffalo finalizes a new lease agreement at Ralph Wilson Stadium to replace the current one which expires at season's end.

Seattle maintained its hold on an NFC wildcard spot but remains in contention for the NFC West lead. If the San Francisco 49ers lose Sunday night to the New England Patriots, the NFC West foes will meet for the divisional lead next week at CenturyLink Field.

Zach Miller also had a TD for Seattle. Steven Hauschka added five converts and three field goals.

Buffalo's Rian Lindell booted two converts and a field goal.

The Bills Toronto Series was unveiled in 2008 amid much fanfare as event organizers wanted to prove Toronto was a viable NFL city. Rogers Communications Inc. paid $78 million US for the contests expecting southern Ontario fans to flock to Rogers Centre whatever the cost.

But a slow economy, high-priced tickets — initially averaging over $180 each, compared to roughly $51 US at Ralph Wilson Stadium — and struggling Bills teams have made it a tough sell.

Event organizers have cut some ticket prices to make games more affordable, but that's not resulted in a sellout yet. The average ticket price for Sunday's game was roughly $99.

Scalpers also had to work hard for their money, with many Sunday willing to unload their tickets under face value to make a sale.

The series has given the Bills a huge financial boost. They're receiving more than double what they'd make if the games were in Orchard Park. N.Y., while being allowed to establish a foothold in Canada's biggest market.

Still, event organizers have struggled trying to recreate the NFL experience here. A huge attraction for many American football fans is being able to arrive at the stadium hours before kickoff, set up the barbecue to cook a variety of foods while throwing a football around in the parking lot or breaking down the upcoming game with friends over a cold beer.

But provincial laws make that impossible here. And then there was the security as fans were searched and their bags checked before entering the stadium.

The roof was closed, good considering the cold, wet temperatures outside. There were no corporate logos on the turf — just the Bills crest at centre field and their team name in both end zones. What especially stood out were the 10-yard end zones on a 100-yard long NFL field compared to the 20-yard end zones and the 110-yard field in Canadian football.

So too was the Jumbotron running during plays, allowing fans to watch the on-field action. That never happens during Toronto Argonauts contests. As has been the case throughout the series, large banners covered the hotel windows overlooking the field, preventing hotel guests from watching like they could during CFL games.

Marisol Thomas Catherine Bach

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