GLENDALE—It was the kind of play that could change momentum and ultimately decide a football game. They type of play people might point to after the game and note that it was when everything changed.
Or, if you're the 2022 Seahawks, it was a mere unfortunate moment that set the table for a fantastic finish for Geno Smith and the rest of the offense in an eventual 31-21 victory, Seattle's fourth straight win by a double-digit margin.
For most of a season in which he has been one of the best stories in the league, Smith has been nearly flawless; there hasn't been a whole lot of aversity to overcome, at least not when it comes to individual performance. But with the Seahawks leading by three points in the third quarter, Smith opened a drive by trying to float a screen pass to Kenneth Walker III. Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins recognized the screed, peeled back after initially lining up as an edge rusher, and made a great play to snag the ball and return it 30 yards for a touchdown that gave Arizona a 14-10 lead.
"I have trust in myself, I know what I can do," said Smith… "After all I've gone through, things like that are not going to faze me."
And sure enough, that Collins pick-six proved to be no gut-punch moment that would derail a losing streak; it was the start of clinical finish to the game for Seattle's offense, which closed out the game with touchdown drives of 70, 81 and 80 yards.
"What happened today is we saw us respond," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We turned the ball over, they scored a touchdown, and then our guys just went for it. We finished the game the way we dream of finishing it, running the football and taking care of the ball and not letting them have it, getting after the quarterback, all that stuff that took place in the fourth quarter there. So I really cherish the finish that we put together."
Seattle's first touchdown drive immediately after the pick-six featured Smith completing six of seven passes for 54 yards, the last of which was a 9-yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett that gave the Seahawks the lead for good. On that drive, the Seahawks were 4 for 4 on third down, including a 12-yard strike from Smith to Lockett on third-and-12.
"You see how he answered the call and drove us down there for a touchdown," said DK Metcalf, who scored Seattle's first touchdown on a 4-yard catch in the second quarter. "It just shows the type of person and the type of quarterback we have."
On the next drive, Walker carried six times, bulling his way to 33 of his 109 rushing yards, capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals responded with a touchdown to make it a one-score game, putting the Seahawks in a position of needing one more drive to close out the game, knowing if they got stopped, Arizona would have a chance to tie or take the lead.
And with the Cardinals selling out to stop the run, Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron called a perfect play, a play-action roll out that saw Smith hit a wide-open Noah Fant with a short pass in the flat that the tight end took 51 yards. Four plays later, all of them Walker runs, the Seahawks were back in the end zone to put the game on ice.
With the game on the line, with Arizona needing a stop to stay in the game, the Seahawks didn't even face third down on the drive.
"It's how you respond, and I think we responded great as a team," said Smith, who completed 26 of 34 attempts for 275 yards, two touchdowns and a 106.9 passer rating. "Going three straight drives finishing with touchdowns, long drives, tough drives. Everyone in the stadium knew the magnitude of those drives, and for us to go down there and score and get touchdowns, it's showing you what type of team we are and what type of team we can be."
And as good as Smith was down the stretch, what might have been even better was the way the Seahawks were able to run the ball to close it out. With the O-line and tight ends leading the way, Walker gained 78 yards on 17 carries in the second half, including 11 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns on Seattle's final two possessions.
"Man, he's so tough," Smith said. "For him to be a rookie, those are the things that the best backs in the league do. He's so tough, he' so good. He's only scratching the surface. I can't wait to just see how he continues to grow, because right now he's leading this offense and this team. He's making it hard on defenses, they can't just back up anymore, they've got to come up and play it straight. The offensive line, Ken Walker, Shane Waldron, they closed the game out for us."
For Carroll, there are few things better in football than seeing a team close out a game by running the ball well when an opponent knows its coming, and with an offensive line that has been great all year paving the way, Walker was able to play the role of closer for the second week in a row.
"When I talk about running the football, I'm not talking about running the ball in the first quarter or the second quarter, that's not really what it is," Carroll said. "It's so that you have it to win football games. That's when you can really play championship football, when you can complete the opportunity. That's what you saw today. I was so fired up about that."
Said rookie right tackle Abraham Lucas, "That's just part of the identity. It's easy to preach, but it's very hard to practice, because as the game wears on, you get tired, your body breaks down, you get aches and cramps and all that other stuff, but it's just about keeping going and going and going, and I thought we did that pretty well today."
The strong finish and the resulting victory continued a strong stretch of play that started with the previous meeting between these teams last month. The Seahawks have not only won four straight to improve to 6-3, they've won all of those games by 10 or more points, the first time they've accomplished that since closing out the 2014 season with six straight double-digit wins.
And with Smith showing the resilience he did Sunday on top of half a season of Pro-Bowl caliber play, and with the defense playing at a very high level for the past month, and with Walker and the running game able to finish like they did Sunday, there is nothing fluky about the way the Seahawks keep winning.
"It's a beautiful thing," said safety Ryan Neal, who forced a fumble in the first half that was recovered by Josh Jones. "You can feel it. That's the special thing about this team, once we get settled into the game, when we get going, even when bad things happen like the interception for a touchdown, no one's freaking out. There is no freak out. It's just like, 'Oh well, let's just go out there and do our job.' And the offense did that."
Neal pointed to the underdog mentality that is helping fuel the team, noting that he went undrafted, and that Smith had to spend seven seasons as a backup before earning this opportunity, and that Pro-Bowl safety Quandre Diggs being a late-round draft pick, and that Tyler Lockett is one of the smallest players in the league.
"It shows the identity of the team, just the resilient team that we are," he said. "… We all have an underdog story. You go out and see Geno do something like that, it just shows the theme of this team, the heartbeat of this team. It's us against the world."
Check out some of the best action shots from Seahawks vs. Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on November 6, 2022. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.