As Geno Smith kneeled to run out the clock and secure a Seahawks victory, chants of "Ge-No! Ge-No! Ge-No!" filled Lumen Field, just as they had in the first half when he threw a pair of long touchdown passes, and again in the second half when he scrambled for 14 yards to turn third-and-16 into a third-and-2 he would convert with another run.
The crowd would chant Smith's name one more time as he walked off the field following Seattle's 17-16 over the Broncos, and yes, over Russell Wilson, the quarterback Smith backed up for the past three seasons, but before Smith left the field, he stopped for an interview with ESPN, during which he dropped this gem:
"They wrote me off, I ain't write back though."
During his postgame press conference, Smith said that line was, "off the dome right there. That's straight bars off the dome right there. Yeah, just in the spur of the moment."
Spur of the moment, and almost a decade in the making.
For most of the last eight years, Smith has been viewed by most as a career backup, as the kind of guy you like having on your team and in your locker room, but not necessarily as the guy starting every Sunday. Smith was a starter each of his first two seasons with the Jets, but he lost his starting job heading into his third season after his jaw was broken in a locker-room altercation, and from there he spent most of his next seven seasons backing up the likes of Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Wilson. Yet Smith never stopped believing, and the Seahawks always believed they had a really good player waiting behind Wilson.
And after winning the starting job with a strong training camp, Smith kicked off the regular season with a standout performance in a thrilling Seahawks win.
Smith's big day started on Seattle's first drive when he avoided a blitzing linebacker, stepped up in the pocket, then floated a pass to Will Dissly for a 38-yard score. Later in the first half, Smith hit Colby Parkinson up the seam with a perfect pass over coverage, giving the Seahawks a 25-yard touchdown. Smith would start the game completing his first 13 pass attempts, and go 17 for 18 in the first half, and even with a quiet second half for the offense, he still finished 23 for 28 for 195 yards, two scores, no turnovers and a 119.5 passer rating.
"How about Geno? I mean, Geno, 17 for 18 in the first half," Carroll said. "Who does that? Guys just don't do that. Remember, he did it against Jacksonville. He had, I don't know, 12, 13 in a row, something like that. Geno played tonight like he has been playing the whole time we've been practicing. That's what he has been looking like. He didn't look any different than what he has looked like in practice. That's why we had the belief in him, and that's why he was able to win the job and go out there on Monday Night Football and win the football game."
While Smith's command of the offense and accuracy as a passer was what the Seahawks were expecting, Carroll admits he was impressed by what Geno showed with his running ability and elusiveness, even if Carroll would prefer next time Smith didn't take a big hit on the sideline.
"He made more plays with his legs than I expected him to tonight," Carroll said. "He took off, and I was so mad at him the time he was running up the sidelines and got smoked on their sidelines. What's he doing? Get down. I got over it. But he did the things. Just finding Diss on the first touchdown pass. Escaping the rush, slipping up underneath and dumping the ball for an easy touchdown. Gorgeous play by him. He had some other ones as well. You can see. I don't know if you guys were doubting, or if everybody thinks that we were making stuff up. We weren't. This is what he looks like. Obviously, he just did it again."
Like his head coach, Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf was also unsurprised that Smith came through with a big performance given the shot to be Seattle's starter.
"It was very good to see Geno go out there and do that, but he's had it in him this whole time," said Metcalf. "He just hasn't had the perfect opportunity for him to go out there and showcase what he really is able to do when he is in full control of an offense. For him to go out there and get a win like that, it just shows the confidence we have in him and what we're looking forward to all season."
Other than enjoying the moment briefly while coming off the field, Smith wasn't interested in playing up his story as something bigger than it is—a player who worked hard for an opportunity, then took advantage. He also dismissed the idea that being a backup for much of his career was some sort of hardship to overcome.
"When people say 'what I've been through,' I think that's a stretch, man," he said. "I'm in the NFL for 10 years, so to say what I've been through is kind of funny. Then to say people wrote me off, I've just been working. That's what I mean by 'I never wrote back.' I don't listen to stuff like that. I just work. I know what I have inside of me. God has blessed me with talent and also a passion and a drive. As far as worrying about naysayer or anything like that, I don't get into that type of stuff. People can write you off, but life is about what you make it. I've just been blessed enough to be in the NFL for ten years and been working my butt off. It's a team game, and we got a win tonight as a team."
But even if Smith doesn't want to make a big deal about his road from longtime backup to again being a starter—and one who happened to open the season against the player he shared a quarterback room with for three seasons—it was clear that his coaches and teammates, and yes, the fans chanting his name, were genuinely happy to see Smith have this moment.
"I'm saying it and I don't care if anybody believes this or not—he is the best he has ever been," Carroll said. "Because of the four years of being in the system and being loved up and taken care of and looked after, and he did his part in reserve to always be there for us. He is ready. He is ready for this moment. The experience that he had, the guys—he was so poised and calm in this game. It was just fun playing with him. We were talking as the game is going on, and he is having fun and laughing and enjoying it. The moment came to him, and he was ready for it. That's a really beautiful illustration. It's a great story. I think it's a great story."
The Seahawks host the Broncos for Monday Night Football at Lumen Field on September 12, 2022. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.