Geno Smith was sick.
“Yeah, I’ve been struggling, man. I woke up today hurting and just kept fighting, kept going, kept going, kept going,” the Seahawks quarterback said Sunday evening.
So this — his comeback win to beat the fallen Los Angeles Rams on Sunday — this was the Geno Smith Flu Game, in the tradition of Michael Jordan’s legendary night to win the 1997 NBA title a generation ago.
“It wasn’t a big enough game,” Smith said, smiling. “But it was a good, you know, it was a good way to win.”
It was a way Smith hadn’t done it in eight years.
After seven seasons mothballed behind starting quarterbacks for four teams, Smith has established himself as the favorite to win this season’s award for NFL comeback player of the year.
He’s been leading the league in completion percentage. He’s been among its leaders in passer rating. He leads NFC quarterbacks in Pro Bowl voting.
Through a dozen games, he has the Seahawks at 7-5 and holding a playoff spot in the NFC with five games left. No one saw this coming — except perhaps Smith’s mother and grandmother who raised him in Miami beginning 32 years ago.
He’s been so much more than anyone expected replacing traded Russell Wilson for Seattle.
But he’d yet to do this:
With just under 3 minutes remaining Sunday and the Seahawks trailing the decimated Rams 23-20, Smith had not led a game-winning, comeback drive in the fourth quarter for Seattle.
Before Smith walked back onto the field Sunday down by three and 75 yards from his first comeback win in eight years, coach Pete Carroll stopped him.
“Coach Carroll told me, ‘Just play pitch and catch,’” Smith said.
The Seahawks’ pitcher should be up for a Cy Young Award, too.
Smith was 6 for 9 passing for 65 of the 75 yards on this game’s final drive. Five of the other yards were on a defensive penalty.
He completed his first three passes on his last march Sunday. On third and 10 from the Rams 40, Tyler Lockett broke open. Smith’s bullet pass hit him in the chest. Lockett fell forward for a gain of 10 yards and the first down.
Then with the game at stake, Smith showed trust in Marquise Goodwin for the veteran’s first catch Sunday: 17 more yards to first and goal at the 9.
Then, Smith rolled right away from pressure. He looked left. He saw DK Metcalf sprinting across the end zone, away from All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in one-on-one coverage. Smith’s pass was a perfect strike, thrown hard enough a late-arriving safety couldn’t reach the ball.
Metcalf’s 9-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left allowed the wounded Seahawks to escape L.A. with a 27-23 victory that ended their two-game losing streak — and gave the team renewed faith in Smith.
“It was an all-time comeback drive,” Carroll said. “And he did it.
Before Sunday’s heroics that put Seattle back into the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC and kept the team one game behind San Francisco for the division lead, Smith hadn’t led a go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter for any team since Dec. 14, 2014. That day he rallied the 3-11 New York Jets to a touchdown with 3 minutes left to beat the 2-12 Tennessee Titans 16-11.
Pitch and catch.
“And that’s what I tried to do,” Smith said. “Just go out there and get the ball in scoring range. And then when we got down there, we had enough time to go out there and finish. And DK made a tremendous catch. The O-line did a great job, (Offensive Coordinator) Shane (Waldron) made a great call.
“And we pulled it out.”
Smith finished with no running game, three running backs injured and/or unable to see clearly — and his career high in yards passing, 367.
Pete Carroll: Smith needed this
It was the opposite result of the late drives Smith led last season in regulation and overtime at Pittsburgh and against New Orleans when Wilson was out three games with a broke finger. Seattle lost both those games, narrowly, and finished 7-9 out of the playoffs for just the second time in 10 years.
Carroll said the comeback drive and win were what the coach and team needed to see, and quarterback needed to have.
“Yeah, honestly, I’ve been aware that he needs that. He needs one of those chances to do it,” Carroll said.
“He’s just on it. And he has to be to be performing the way he’s performing so consistently for so long now. And really, it’s a remarkable statement that he’s making about who he is and what he is all about. And I’m just proud as heck of him.
“That’s just good to have. This is good to put in back pocket. ...We’re going to need him down the stretch here and we’re going to need more games like that.
“It’s just a good thing.”
Geno Smith knew
Oh, yes, Smith was well aware that for all he’s already done this season he’s yet to lead a comeback drive to victory.
“During this season we had some opportunities where we could have done the same thing and (come up) short,” he said. “And so, as we continue on late into the season, you want to show improvement. And I think that’s what it showed, a lot of grit, determination.”
Smith’s teammates also knew this was his breakthrough moment in his — and Seattle’s — perception-breaking season.
“Man, that’s a big-time moment, man,” Lockett said after his nine catches for his season high of 128 yards and a first-half touchdown catch from Smith. “A lot of people had their own opinions of quarterbacks and what they can and can’t do, and the biggest thing Geno does is, he just puts his head down and he just works. He just does what needs to be done.
“Just the poise. Just not letting things shake him. Even when things are going wrong, it’s like Geno taps into another level. ...
“Geno’s strong mentally, man. He’s come a long way in this league. The things that he’s experienced and the things that he’s overcome, drives like this, I mean, that’s probably nothing to him from what he’s overcome.”
Smith’s been around enough to know a comeback past a 3-9 team missing front-line starters from Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford and more in early December isn’t all it will take to get Smith to where he’s never been: playing in a postseason game, next month.
But he has now showed his teammates he can do what it’s going to take to get there.
“It’s something that we have to have,” Smith said. “The games are going to come down to that in the NFL. That’s what the playoff games are going to feel like.
“And it was real good to get a win.”