Days before the Seahawks opened the 2022 season, Geno Smith stood at a podium to discuss what would be his first Week 1 start since 2014.
After seven seasons as a backup for four different teams, after being written off by most of the football world, Smith had finally earned a shot at starting once again, and while a lot of people were curious or skeptical about how Smith would do as a fulltime starter, he made it clear that the moment wasn't going to be too big for him, not in Week 1 as he got ready to face a Broncos team led by the quarterback, Russell Wilson, who Smith was replacing in Seattle, and not in a season in which both Smith and the Seahawks would exceed everyone's expectations but their own.
"I'm not star-struck or anything by this opportunity," Smith said prior to Seattle's opener. "I've been working my butt off, and I think that the work is more important than all of the reflection and all of that type of stuff. It's about taking care of business. Obviously, I'm thankful and grateful that I know what I've been working for, and I know there's more work to be done… I understand that there has been a gap, but I've never lost confidence in my ability or the things that I can do on the field."
Three days later, Smith led the Seahawks to a win over the Broncos and uttered the now famous line, "They wrote me off; I ain't write back though," and while he may have never written back, Smith did spend the next four months writing one of the best stories of the 2022 NFL season.
And for a memorable 2022 campaign that saw Smith earn Pro-Bowl honors for the first time while helping lead the Seahawks to the playoffs, Smith was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year at Thursday's NFL Honors ceremony.
Smith, who also won the Pro Football Writers of America Comeback Player of the Year and Most Improved Player awards, is the first Seahawks player to earn AP Comeback Player of the Year honors. Smith was one of four Seahawks players up for awards at NFL Honors, with cornerback Tariq Woolen and running back Kenneth Walker III being named finalists for Defensive Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year, respectively, while receiver Tyler Lockett was the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Walker finished a close second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Jets receiver Garrett Wilson, while Woolen finished third in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
After winning the starting job in August, Smith went on to not just start every game, but play every offensive snap, the only quarterback in the NFL to do so in 2022. And in helping the Seahawks to a 9-8 record and a return to the postseason, Smith led the NFL in completion percentage with a 69.8 percent mark that also set a franchise record. He also set franchise records for completions (399), attempts (572) and passing yards (4,282), and he became one of only three quarterbacks in team history, along with Wilson and Dave Krieg, to throw 30 or more touchdown passes in a season. Smith's 30 touchdown passes were the fourth most in the league, while his 100.9 passer rating ranked fifth, and along the way he also earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in Week 4 and NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors in October.
"He's for real," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle's playoff loss in Santa Clara. "Geno is the real deal. He can do all of the things that a terrific quarterback does. His movement was probably more of a surprise that he was so efficient with his movement—he could always throw it. His ability to stay poised and calm throughout the season, throughout the year—with all of the hype and the buildup, he could have gone south five different times, and he never did. He never wavered. His leadership really stood out. His voice in the locker room, his voice with our players, he said the right stuff all year, right up to today. It's a great story. It's a great story for a lot of players, in other sports, wherever you want to go, if you keep hanging in there and you believe in yourself, and you don't let the messaging outside of you affect who you are and what you are, you'll find your best. I think Geno has found his best, and he's ready to come back and go again. I thought he had just an unbelievably great season for us."
And while Smith was deservedly honored for his impressive 2022 season with a Pro Bowl selection and multiple Comeback Player of the Year Awards, including the AP award handed out Thursday, he is far from being satisfied with what he did in his first season as a starter in nearly a decade.
"Everything for me has got to get better," Smith said after Seattle’s Wild Card loss to the 49ers. "I'm not at all satisfied… I feel like we could have kept going, so for me, I've got to be better. I'm going to take this one personally."
The level of accountability Smith showed after that game was consistent with how he talked throughout the season, and it was just part of what endeared him to teammates as a leader. Smith also showed an impressive level of perspective whenever he was asked about having to wait so long for another shot at starting, even as less talented quarterbacks got multiple opportunities between Smith's last year starting with the Jets in 2014 and last season.
"I can't say it was tough, because I have been so blessed," Smith said in December when asked about the professional challenges he faced. "Honestly, my tough times would be a dream to someone else. I never will look at it as something that was too hard for me or really tough because throughout that time, I was still enjoying my life and still in the NFL. For the most part, it was just feeling like there was a glass ceiling and you want to break that ceiling. It's like something hovering over you that you just want to break, so you can continue to grow further. For me, I just had to stay patient until I had the opportunity."
That patience paid off and the opportunity finally came in 2022, and Smith seized the moment, making him a very deserving recipient of the AP Comeback Player of the Year award.
Take a look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith from the 2022 season.