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Russell Wilson has a whole lot on his shoulders, as usual

Seahawks aim to keep their faint playoff hopes alive against Dak and the Cowboys

RENTON, Washington – This isn’t how superstar quarterback Russell Wilson had planned to close out 2017. Not with the suddenly reeling Seattle Seahawks fighting among themselves and the window rapidly closing on this iteration of the team’s roster.

After all, it was only a few weeks ago that the Seahawks occupied their familiar position among the NFC’s leading playoff contenders and Wilson’s name was mentioned prominently in the mix for the league MVP award. Of course, life comes at you fast. Consecutive losses, poor performances by Wilson and the growing likelihood that Seattle will miss the postseason for the first time since the 2011 season has changed the outlook.

On Thursday, the Seahawks were fined $100,00 for violating the league’s concussion protocol with their quarterback during a Nov. 9 game against the Arizona Cardinals. The referee sent Wilson to the sideline to be evaluated after taking a hit, but Wilson returned to the game before medical officials could examine him.

“We did not knowingly disregard the Concussion Protocol,” the Seahawks said. “Any misstep was unintentional and the result of confusion on the sideline.”

The Seahawks are merely trying to hold it together, or at least get back together. As usual, a whole lot is on Wilson’s shoulders.

In what’s essentially an elimination game, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys play host on Sunday to Wilson and the Seahawks. The losers can start booking their postseason vacation plans. Since his rookie season in 2012, Wilson has always remained on the clock once the regular season ended. He’d prefer to have the streak continue.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about winning,” Wilson said recently at the team’s complex here. “That’s what I really love. I love winning. I love trying to get to the end goal. And winning is that end goal.”

In their past two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams – both surprising division leaders – the Seahawks appeared incapable of achieving any goals.

Wilson was intercepted three times in a 30-24 road loss to Jacksonville, which tops the AFC South. In an NFC West showdown at Seattle the following week, the Rams dismantled the Seahawks, 42-7. Wilson had by far his worst outing of the season: He passed for a season-low 142 yards, completed only 46.7 percent of his passes and had an awful 7.4 Total QBR. In contrast, Wilson’s QBR for the season is 59.5.

Under head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have been known for strong closing kicks in the regular season. Perhaps being in unfamiliar territory explains why they became completely unglued.

During a heated finish in Week 14, there were fights on consecutive plays while the Jaguars were kneeling to run out the clock and the Seahawks’ defensive linemen didn’t let up. After being ejected, Seattle defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson had an ugly exchange near the stadium’s railing with spectators wearing Jaguars gear. Jefferson briefly tried to climb into the stands after several things were thrown at him. The NFL didn’t suspend anyone involved in the melee.

The Seahawks got an even more painful gut punch the following week.

The up-and-coming Rams were so dominant, it felt like a sea change had occurred in the division. Several of Seattle’s core players are out with major injuries and either approaching 30 or on the wrong side of it, and the group isn’t handling its new reality well.

Safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner, two of the team’s defensive stars, got into it on Twitter after Thomas said Wagner should not have played against the Rams because of a hamstring injury. If the Seahawks aren’t crumbling right before our eyes, they’re doing a great job of acting.

In fairness, their once second-to-none defense has been decimated by injuries. And Wilson has had to carry a disproportionate load on offense to help compensate for the lack of production by others in the running game. But here’s the thing: Until their last two clunkers, the Seahawks were making it work with Wilson doing much more than his fair share.

The four-time Pro Bowler was spectacular while directing a 24-10 takedown of the Philadelphia Eagles, who have already clinched the NFC East, in Week 13. Wilson completed almost 65 percent of his passes, had three touchdown passes with no interceptions and a sparkling 118.6 passer rating. Afterward, the Eagles just shook their heads and spoke the truth.

“Russell, man, it’s like playing against a video game joystick,” Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Some of the things he does out there – escaping the pocket, scrambling, making some of those crazy throws – you just can’t do anything about it.”

With only two games remaining and the Seahawks currently out of a playoff spot, they’ll have to keep leaning heavily on Wilson. Carroll knows it.

“I don’t know how [Wilson] could carry it [the offense] much more,” Carroll said. “He’s having a fantastic football season and doing marvelous stuff.

“It’s great to see him with the good fortune of health. We can see the difference and it’s so obvious between this year and last year. He had a great offseason and it’s showing up through his conditioning throughout the year. We would be in a different mode without him.”

Wilson hears the clock ticking on the season. He has to find a way lift up everyone around him again. Quickly.

“The quarterback position is really about the others. It’s really about trying to make the other 10 guys on the field better,” Wilson said. “And typically, the best quarterbacks in the National Football League find ways to make the other guys better.

“That’s my main concern. That’s my main focus at all times. Every morning I wake up, every night and every offseason, every year. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. That’s what I really love. I love winning.”

No matter how Seattle finishes, Wilson will still be a winner. Remember: Dude is married to Ciara. What’s unclear, however, is whether Wilson still has enough around him to help the Seahawks keep on winning.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.