For two-plus seasons, Geno Smith has held one of the most anonymous jobs in the NFL, serving as the backup to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a player who has never missed a start in his NFL career.
But when Wilson left Thursday's game with a finger injury, not only was Smith called into action, he was put into a very difficult situation, taking over after a Rams punt pinned Seattle at the 2-yard line with the Seahawks trailing by two scores.
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Smith ultimately wasn't able to lead a comeback victory, with the Rams holding on for a 26-17 win, but he showed in the fourth quarter why his coaches and teammates have always had so much faith in a backup quarterback who almost never plays.
Smith, a starter for the Jets in his first two seasons in the league, has been the backup to three very durable quarterbacks in Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Wilson since leaving the Jets, so playing time has been scarce. But in his first meaningful regular-season action—Smith had previously appeared in only two games over the previous two seasons, attempting five passes in mop-up duty—Smith showed he was ready to lead an offense.
First, Smith led the Seahawks on a 98-yard drive, going 7-for-7 for 72 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf. Then after the Rams answered with a touchdown, Smith led a field-goal drive to again make it a one-score game. After the defense got a stop, Smith had one last chance at heroics, but unfortunately his first throw of that drive was intercepted after Tyler Lockett, Smith's intended target, got tripped up running his route, leading to an easy interception for the Rams.
"I thought Geno did an incredible job," said Lockett. "We were on what, the 3-yard line and he drove us all the way down there. Shoot, he did an incredible job. That was a big-time drive, he was very patient, reading through everything, all his keys. He really did phenomenal, I was really happy for him. I told him I was proud of him the way he played. We all know he can play like that, and when he got his opportunity, he showed out, and I was just happy for him."
Said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, "I went right to Geno afterward and just said, 'You know, you've been waiting a long time for your opportunity, and the faith that you've shown in our program and in us to stay with us, I was so proud.'"
By the time Smith had the offense past midfield on his first drive, the Lumen Field crowd began chanting his name: "Geno! Geno! Geno!" The chants grew even louder the next time the offense took the field to the point that offensive players had to gesture to the crowd to quiet down. The end result obviously kept it from being a perfect finish for Smith, but it was still a special moment for a player who has waited a long time for his opportunity.
"It would have been a lot better if we got a win, but it meant a lot, the city has embraced me," he said. "This team has embraced me, and I'm really grateful for that. I appreciate all the fans. The atmosphere was just electric tonight. I mean, you could see it out there. Everyone was fired up. I really thought we had a chance. Thought we were going to come back and get it done; unfortunately we didn't. But we'll bounce back and get better."
While Smith and the offense weren't able to complete the comeback for a storybook ending, what Smith did do was show his team that, should Wilson have to miss any time going forward, the offense is good hands.
"He did great, he really looked good," Carroll said. "He's been working for that. He's a talented football player, he knows our system. If Geno's going to play for us some as Russ comes back, he showed that we're in good hands."
Smith's performance was impressive, but not all that surprising to people who have seen him in practice for the past three years, or to those who remember watching him dominate in college at West Virginia.
"We all knew what Geno could do," said Lockett. "We've seen it when he was on other teams in the NFL. Heck, I saw him when I was in the Big 12 and we played against him. So we all knew what he was capable of being able to do, and he did amazing. He really did awesome, and I was happy for him, proud of him, and the sky's the limit for him. I'm just happy he got himself an opportunity and he made the best out of it."
Quandre Diggs, who has practiced against Smith over the past three years and who before that played against him in college, said, "It was great. I've seen Geno in action multiple times. I've seen him tear us up in college. He's had his opportunities and he's played big-time ball in the NFL before, and he looked like it. There was nothing Geno did that impressed me, because I know the type of work he puts in, I know how he tries to kill us in practice. He was ready for his moment and he took advantage of it."
Like any backup quarterback, Smith has spent his time in Seattle constantly preparing as if he'll play even though he knows the odds aren't great of that happening in any particular game, and he admitted that hasn't always been easy.
"I've been playing this game long enough to know that just when you think it's not going to happen is when it does, so just preparing every single time," he said. "It is gut wrenching sometimes. Sometimes I fight back tears before the games, like, 'Man, I wish I could be out there.' Reality is you got to prepare and you got to keep preparing. That is something that I pride myself on is being prepared and always being ready. And that's mentally, physically, and anything else."
If Wilson isn't able to play next week when the Seahawks face the Steelers, Smith will take the field for his first start since 2017 with only one goal in mind.
"I just want to win," he said. "That's all that is important. Just want to win."
The Seattle Seahawks take on the Los Angeles Rams for Thursday Night Football during Week 5 of the 2021 season at Lumen Field. This album will be updated throughout the game. Game Action photos are presented by Washington Lottery.