Geno Smith's 2022 season has been one of the best stories of his NFL season, a longtime backup thriving after finally getting a chance to be a starter, even earning Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his 10-year career.
The Seahawks quarterback has been steadfast, however, is saying this season is not redemption, and that he isn't out to prove anyone wrong. He's displayed remarkable perspective throughout this breakout season, and despite ample opportunities to shout "I told you so, NFL!" he has instead maintained that this is simply the type of player he knew he could be all along given the chance.
So no, Smith is not viewing Sunday's game against the Jets as a revenge game or anything like that. The Jets, of course, are the team that selected Smith in the second-round of the 2013 draft made him their starter as a rookie and in his second season, then moved on to Ryan Fitzpatrick after Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in a locker room altercation prior to the start of his third season.
Yes, Smith wants to play well against his former team, but only because he knows the Seahawks need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"I just feel like the importance of it is that we need a win to get to the playoffs," Smith said when he was asked if there was any extra motivation this week. "Obviously, there will be some speculation and talk about that, it comes with the territory; it's to be expected. I have a lot of love for the Jets, the organization and the people that are still there that were there when I got drafted. For me and this team, it's business as usual, another week to prepare and a tough challenge for us to go out there and try to get this win. We need it."
Smith went on to say he was grateful to the Jets "for drafting me and giving me an opportunity to be in the NFL and live out my dream. There are a lot of names, too many to name right now, but my time there, I really appreciated it. It helped me grow as a man, it was a good time for me, it was a time for me to learn and grow in the league, and it was good."
While Smith has always had the utmost confidence in his abilities, he can recognize that the years since he left New York have allowed him to grow both as a man and as a player, helping him become the type of person who was able to seize this opportunity and thrive despite having to wait so long for another chance to start, spending seven seasons as a backup for the Jets, Giants, Chargers and Seahawks.
"I've just gotten wiser, and I've grown," he said. "I've had a lot of time to learn, be able to sit, grow, and learn from other guys, and I've been around different coaches. As anyone else in life, as you get older, you get better. If you try to get better, you get wiser, learn new things, and learn about yourself, so overall, I haven't really changed that much, but I've grown in a lot of different areas."
Asked specifically how he's grown as a player, Smith added, "I would say that I am a much smarter player, I have more knowledge than I did then. I was a rookie learning things and was learning as I go, but all of those lessons that I learned in that time and throughout the entire span of my career has led me to be a little different, but not too much."
Even with all that wisdom and maturity, it would be understandable if Smith was a little bitter about how things ended in New York. Smith was coming off the best game of his career to end the 2015 season and felt ready to take the next step in Year 3, only to lose that shot in very unusual fashion. After recovering from the broken jaw, Smith became Fitzpatrick's backup for the rest of that season, and the next year after opening the year as the backup, he got another chance to start, only to tear his ACL in his first start of the season, effectively ending his Jets career. The next five seasons were spent backing up Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson, with no real opportunities for a starting job coming his way.
But as Smith said earlier this season of the path his career took, "I can't say it was tough, because I have been so blessed. Honestly, my tough times would be a dream to someone else."
Instead of feeling like he was robbed of the kind of career he knew he was capable of having, Smith saw his career adversity as a chance to grow.
"I think that was an amazing time for me to grow and become even more of a selfless individual," he said. "Obviously, we have our own goals and the way things transpired wasn't in my plans or what I had thought would happen, but it happened. You kind of take the approach of, 'You can't cry over spilled milk,' and also being a great teammate to the guys around me, not letting that hinder me from helping them succeed in any way that I can. That kind of became my career for a while, being a great teammate, trying to help guys get better, and do whatever it took to help the team win outside of playing. Just in that timeframe and when I was going through that, I really had time to reflect. It was the first time that I hadn't played or started since maybe 10 years old. I've been playing football for a long time, started many seasons, and then boom, something happens where now you have to sit. What's different was challenging, but also taught me a lot and helped me grow."
Smith, of course, won't be the only person whose time with the Jets was brief, only to find success in Seattle much later. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's first head coaching job was with the Jets, a 6-10 campaign that saw him get fired after just one year on the job. And for both Smith and Carroll their histories with the Jets will be a non-factor on Sunday.
"Really, we are kind of going as partners in crime, that we were both there," Carroll said. "It didn't quite work out right at the end, so we are just sharing the experience a little bit, but it was such a long time ago that it's not a factor. I've already mentioned it, so we are aware of it."
Take a look back at some of the top shots of Seahawks linebacker Cody Barton from the 2022 season, presented by Carmax.