GLENDALE, Ariz. – After maybe the worst play of his Seahawks career, Geno Smith ran to the sideline and tapped his chest, giving the universal signal for “my bad.”
And then Smith proceeded to be better than maybe he’s ever been as a Seahawk, if not as an NFL quarterback, leading three straight touchdown drives to help Seattle salt away a 31-21 win over Arizona on Sunday.
It was the Seahawks’ fourth straight victory and improved their record to 6-3, moving them a game-and-a-half ahead of the rest of the NFC West in the most emphatic statement yet that they are legitimately playoff contenders.
When Smith threw a pick-six to Arizona’s Zaven Collins – who perfectly read a screen pass to Kenneth Walker III, tipped and caught the ball before returning it 30 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter – it was tempting to think this was finally the time the Seahawks were going to wilt.
When one of the surprise teams of the first half of the NFL season was going to finally fade away.
But as Smith calmly walked to the sidelines, he told teammates the fault was his, and that while Arizona now had a 14-10 lead, the game was still Seattle’s to be won.
“He was the first one to come to the sideline and be like: ‘Hey, let’s go. We’re good. We’re gonna be fine,’” tight end Noah Fant said. “’We’re gonna be in this game, and we’re going to win this game.’”
Smith could hardly have proved a better man of his word, leading Seattle on touchdown drives of 75, 81 and 85 yards on the Seahawks’ next three possessions, at one point helping convert seven straight third downs, including a run of 18 yards on a third-and-7 and a pass to Tyler Lockett for 12 yards on a third-and-12.
“What a bounce back,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “What a fantastic finish to this game he had.”
Following the interception, Smith was 10 of 12 for 123 yards and a touchdown while also running four times for 28 yards.
“It’s on me,” Smith said of the message he was intending to send to his teammates as he came off the field following the pick-six.
“Obviously I don’t want to have any interceptions, have any turnovers. But I’ll take it and I’ll own it and I’ll move on from it.”
Smith helped Seattle convert four third downs on the next drive, including the 12-yard pass to Lockett and the TD, a 9-yard toss to Lockett on a third-and-6 on a day when the Seahawks hit on 10 of 15 third downs overall.
“It’s similar to when you throw a touchdown,” Smith said of how he bounced back. “You always gotta get to the next play. You never worry about what happened previously. … It’s how you respond. And I think we responded great as a team.”
That was hard to argue as this ultimately turned out to be about as complete of a win as Seattle has had this year against a team that desperately needed a victory – and a team that last year started 7-0 and seemed to be passing the Seahawks for good in the NFC West hierarchy.
Instead, the Seahawks remain (stunningly) at the top of the division after their fourth straight game holding an opponent to 329 yards or fewer and two offensive touchdowns or fewer, while finishing with 421 yards of their own.
Aside from Smith’s interception, there were a few other nervous moments.
The Cardinals, who this time around had receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back James Conner, drove 83 yards the first time they had the ball to take a 7-3 lead.
In that moment, you might have thought Seattle’s recent defensive resurgence was about to end.
But the Seahawks held Arizona to punts on six of its next seven drives – Arizona gained just 73 yards on its next 34 plays following its first-possession touchdown. The other possession ended when Ryan Neal forced a fumble by Kyler Murray when he scrambled for an apparent first down late in the first half, saving at least three points and preserving a 10-7 Seahawks halftime lead.
“Just nothing but a strain and effort play,” Neal said, noting that teammate Coby Bryant had forced a fumble by Murray in Seattle’s 19-9 win over Arizona on Oct. 16 on a similar-looking play.
“Just giving it my best effort and just straining and throwing my arms out there,” Neal said. “Kyler’s known for kind of carrying it loose.”
And it wasn’t lost on defensive players that Arizona was the opponent Seattle faced when its defense began to make its turn, after players asked coaches if they could play more aggressively up front and ditch a read-and-react two-gap style the team used the first five games of the year.
“It just kind of switched when our big guys were able to go out there and just eat and not worry about two-gapping and they can just be aggressive,” safety Quandre Diggs said. “I think that just turned them up to another notch. That’s what they asked for and that’s what I also recommended, so we knew we had to take a next step and it’s gonna be on us. If it didn’t work, it was gonna be on us, so we have no more excuses.”
Now what they have is hope.
After Smith hit Lockett to put Seattle on top 17-14, the Seahawks got a stop and then drove 81 yards for a TD capped by a 1-yard run by Kenneth Walker III.
After Arizona drove 75 yards in 14 plays to cut the lead to 24-21 on a Murray pass of six yards to tight end Zach Ertz, the Seahawks immediately responded, with Smith rolling out and hitting Fant for what turned into a 51-yard catch-and-run.
That led to a 5-yard Walker run that made it 31-21 and gave Seattle its fourth straight win by 10 points or more – only the third time in franchise history that has happened.
Seattle also finished with 158 yards rushing – 106 in the second half – and five sacks, all of which came in the second half.
“We finished the game the way we dream of finishing it, running the football and taking care of the ball and not letting them have it,” Carroll said. “Getting after the quarterback, all that stuff that took place in the fourth quarter there. So I really cherish the finish that we put together.”
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