SEATTLE – What everyone thought would be a game of revenge turned into an evening of grand redemption.
Considered by some evaluators as the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, Eugene Cyril Smith (hereafter known to Seahawks fans as Geno! Geno! Geno!) revived his stagnant career and salved the anguish of thousands of spurned Russell Wilson disciples with an unforeseen marvel of a game.
Suddenly, with an efficient, mistake-averse quarterback (23-28, 195 yards), the 2022 Seahawks’ season takes on a far brighter outlook. At 1-0, the Seahawks lead the NFC West.
Smith fired a pair of touchdown passes and engineered the Seahawk offense flawlessly while the defense forced a pair of goal-line fumbles as Seattle edged the favored Denver Broncos 17-16 in front of a Monday night crowd of 68,965.
The return of Wilson to Lumen Field, where he had executed so many last-minute feats of magic for 10 seasons, energized the crowd, raising decibel levels to heights reminiscent of the old AFC West showdowns against the Broncos in the echo-chamber Kingdome.
Rumors of Wilson’s decline, at age 33, were exaggerated, or at least premature. He passed for 340 yards and a touchdown, with numerous clutch completions. But he couldn’t get the Broncos close enough in the final minute as their last-gasp 64-yard field goal was long enough but barely wide left.
Wilson’s Hall of Fame credentials were fashioned in front of these fans, but his breakup with the Seahawks and pairing with the Broncos wasn’t executed by any of the principals with the grace it might have been.
So fans of the Seahawks have spent the past six months apportioning blame for a relationship gone sour, speculating which side had been swindled. Sports columns began sounding like advice for the lovelorn. How do we mend our broken hearts? How do we get over this bad breakup?
Wilson’s every move was monitored from the moment he arrived. He showed up looking flashy, wearing a bowtie and shades (indoors) and a shiny suit the chromium blue of Dallas Cowboy road pants. The crowd had a variety of responses to Wilson, a chorus of loud boos and a few critical signs, but also some signs of appreciation for his contributions to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title.
Going unconsidered in most of the trade calculus was the potential of Wilson’s replacement. Smith hadn’t been a regular starter in the NFL since 2014. He’d been a castaway, overlooked and consigned to the clipboard, and at 31, his career options appeared limited.
But Smith sizzled, completing 17 of 18 passes and two scores in the first half. He bought time when he needed it, scrambled when he had to and found receivers when they got open. He managed the game in a way that caused coach Pete Carroll to gush.
“Geno played tonight like he has the whole time we’ve been practicing,” Carroll said. “He’s the best he’s ever been. He’s ready for this moment. He was so poised and calm in this game.”
The tenacity of the Seahawk defense might have been as surprising as Smith’s season debut. The Broncos picked up 433 yards, but they resulted in just one touchdown and three field goals. Twice in the second half, Broncos’ drives ended up in lost fumbles at the goal line.
The game lured a number of former stars to the sidelines: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and others. Perhaps in their honor, the Hawk defense looked very Legion of Boomish, playing with the spirit of their old motto: Defend every blade of grass.
“Give us a blade of grass and we’re going to protect it, that’s what we were doing today. That’s huge, man,” said linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.
Wilson had made some comments in the press about how comfortable he is with the Denver offensive approach.
It came as a surprise to many of the Seahawks, especially those who had witnessed Wilson’s wizardry in game-deciding plays, that when the Broncos faced fourth-and-5 at the Seattle 46 with 20 seconds remaining, that the staff decided to try a lengthy field goal rather than give Wilson a chance to win the game.
In a dose of delicious irony, the final moments were filled with awe for the play of Smith, not Wilson.
Geno! Geno! Geno!
“The fans were great tonight,” Smith said. “They caused (Denver) a few penalties. That’s what we’re going to need all year. But we also have to give them something to cheer for.”
Oh, you did that, Geno.
Geno! Geno! Geno!
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.