SEATTLE, WA - For the first time since 2011, Seahawks fans watched their team try to win a meaningful football game without Russell Wilson under center. As expected, they did not get the job done, but backup quarterback Geno Smith wouldn't let them go quietly in the night.
"I felt ready," Smith told reporters following the team's 26-17 loss to the Rams. "Been preparing. One thing about me is I always prepare like I'm going to play. You never know what can happen. I've been around long enough to know that."
Prior to firing the game-sealing interception, Smith and the Seattle offense looked the best it had all night long. Starting his first drive from the Seahawks' own two-yard line, the West Virginia alum surgically moved his team down the field for a 98-yard scoring drive capped off by a beautiful connection to receiver DK Metcalf, cutting the Rams' lead to 16-14.
As Smith went to work, Wilson paced on the sideline, gripping a tennis ball wrapped in sponge to test his hand strength. With a little over seven minutes left in the third quarter, Wilson hit his throwing hand on the outstretched hand of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, suffering a "badly sprained [middle] finger," according to head coach Pete Carroll.
He'd come back on the field for the team's very next drive, completing one pass for a single yard to tight end Colby Parkinson before Seattle went three-and-out. But after that, the decision was made to call Smith's number.
"[Wilson] was just trying to figure it out," Carroll explained. "They were working to figure it out, and took a while, and just could tell that it just wasn't right to go back out."
"Man, Russ, I can't say enough good things about Russell Wilson," Smith added. "He's a great, great competitor. Guy didn't want to come out of the game, and that says a lot about this man. He's tough as nails. When I was out there, he was supportive, as supportive as I am for him. I think that speaks volumes about his character and who he is."
Smith's chances of completing the unlikely comeback took a significant hit immediately following his momentum-shifting touchdown pass to Metcalf. The Rams, led by a quarterback dealing with a finger injury of his own, mowed down the Seahawks' defense with ease and put the deficit back to two possessions with a two-yard rushing touchdown by running back Sony Michel.
Seattle responded, however, as Smith orchestrated yet another efficient drive down into the red zone. Things stalled at the Rams' 14-yard line, but kicker Jason Myers' 32-yard field goal kept the game within reach if Ken Norton Jr.'s historically-poor defense could get a stop.
Despite giving up a 12-yard run to running back Darrell Henderson, the Seahawks were able to force a punt before the two-minute warning struck. Receiver Freddie Swain called fair catch at the Seattle 16-yard line, setting Smith and company up for a potential 84-yard, storybook finish.
Unfortunately, there would be no Hollywood script to play out. Instead, on the first play of the drive, Smith rolled out to his right and tried to time up a completion to star wideout Tyler Lockett. However, Lockett was not there, having tripped during his route as Smith let go of the ball—right into the hands of Rams safety Nick Scott.
Los Angeles kicker Matt Gay put a 47-yard field goal attempt through the uprights to extend his team's lead to 26-17 and hammer the final nail in Seattle's coffin. But though they fell short, Smith's teammates were quick to praise the backup quarterback for keeping hope alive right down to the wire.
"When Russ went out, Geno came in, and I thought Geno did an incredible job," Lockett expressed. "I think we were on the three- or four-yard line, and he drove us all the way down there. He did an incredible job, man. Those were some big time drives that he did. 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 that he played. We all know that he can play like that and stuff like that. When he got his opportunity, he showed out, and I was just happy for him. That’s what I kept telling him."
Smith's final tally on the night came out to 10 completions on 17 pass attempts for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also had 23 rushing yards on three tries.
This was his first regular season action since taking over for Wilson late in a 40-3 blowout win over the Jets in Week 14 of the 2020 campaign. Now, with Wilson's status up in the air, the nine-year veteran may be in line to make his first start since December 3, 2017 when the Seahawks travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday night.
"We'll see," Smith brushed off the notion of Wilson missing time. "We'll see. I'll be ready."
Taken in the early second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Smith was labelled a bust after a failed four-year term with the Jets. From there, he spent a season serving as Eli Manning's backup with the Giants, then moved out west to sit behind Philip Rivers as a member of the Chargers before making his way to the Pacific Northwest in 2019.
Everywhere he's gone, not only has the talent in front of him been Hall of Fame caliber; the trio of Rivers, Manning and Wilson are three of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history. As such, opportunities have been vastly limited for him. But Smith has learned a lot in his journey, preparing for a moment such as this.
"My motivation comes from a bunch of factors," Smith said. "My family, obviously my son, and obviously just the love for the game, just respecting the game. I've been playing this game long enough to know just when you think it's not going to happen is when it does, so just preparing every single time. 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."
The coming days will be some of the most nerve-wracking this Seahawks team has had to endure in the Carroll era.
Wilson will undergo an MRI on Friday then travel to Los Angeles for a consultation with Dr. Steven Shin to assess the damage on his finger. If it's determined that he'll be forced to miss an extended period of time, then Smith will be tasked to keep Seattle's season afloat after a disastrous 2-3 start.
At the very least, as Smith proved on Thursday night: he'll be ready for the challenge. His goal?
"Just want to win. That's all that is important. Just want to win."