The lusty boos for their former quarterback at the beginning of the game turned into happy chants for their new quarterback by the end of it.
And in typical Russell Wilson fashion, the game wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
But this time, a Wilson attempt to fashion a fourth-quarter comeback at Lumen Field – where he had pulled off 20 before in his career – fell just short.
Facing a fourth-and-5 at their own 46, the Broncos decided to let Brandon McManus attempt a 64-yard field goal. The kick sailed just wide left and the Seattle crowd, treated to an unusual spectacle all night long, left happy as could be with the Seahawks clinging to a 17-16 victory.
Seattle is now 1-0 in the post-Wilson era, with a victory that head coach Pete Carroll will undoubtedly savor as much as any he has gotten in his career.
But for as much of a revelation as Geno Smith was in his first start on opening day since 2014 – completing his first 13 passes, throwing two touchdowns in the first half and not committing a turnover – it was a gutty defensive effort that won this one.
Three times in the second half, the Seahawks held Denver out of the end zone on drives inside the 10-yard line, twice stopping the Broncos entirely and another time forcing a field goal.
Seattle also came up with the big plays that it needed to force Denver rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett into a decision that is sure to be widely questioned – instead of Letting Russ Cook on a fourth down, he tried a 64-yard field goal.
After stopping Seattle on a three-and-out – with Smith sacked on third down by Bradley Chubb who beat rookie left tackle Charles Cross – Denver got the ball back at its own 22 with 4:02 remaining and all three timeouts.
After a 5-yard run by Melvin Gordon III, Jerry Jeudy dropped a pass on second down that would have gotten the first.
On third-and-5, Wilson escaped pressure and threw to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who fought through a tackle by Quandre Diggs to lean for the first down with 3:03 left.
Carroll challenged it, but the ruling stood.
Two plays later Denver faced another third down – this one a third-and-2 from the 40 at the two-minute warning.
With the crowd at a fever pitch, Wilson calmly hit Javonte Williams on a short pass over the middle for nine yards.
But on the next play Cody Barton tackled Williams for a 4-yard loss after a pass and Wilson then threw incomplete on second down.
Wilson then hit Williams in the flat and he made Justin Coleman miss to gain nine.
That set up a fourth-and-5 at the 46. With Denver lined up for the snap, Wilson let the clock run down to 20 seconds – the third down play had snapped with 1:11 – before calling a timeout.
Seattle then called a timeout to let McManus and Denver think about it, and the kick then just missed.
Seattle turned in two goal-line stands in the third quarter – each time forcing fumbles – that ultimately turned the game.
The first came on a fourth-and-1 when Quandre Diggs led a charge of defenders to stuff Gordon, who then fumbled trying vainly to reach the ball over the goal line.
The second came on Denver’s next possession when Javonte Williams lost the ball as he was tackled behind the line on a third-and-goal at the 1, with Uchenna Nwosu credited with the forced fumble.
Seattle then forced a field goal after a Denver drive that reached the three.
And the stout defense came mostly without safety Jamal Adams, who left the game early in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return.
There had been much pregame speculation how Wilson would be received by the Seattle crowd, though the reality was there was also an awful lot of Denver orange scattered about Lumen Field.
But the boos – which were assumed to be all from Seahawks fans – drowned out the cheers at every turn, and maybe surprisingly so.
Wilson was booed when he took the field with the rest of the quarterbacks for pregame warmups. Booed when he took the field with the rest of the team before kickoff. And booed when he walked onto the field for the coin toss as one of Denver’s captains.
That gave Seattle the ball first and Smith hit all four of his throws on the Seahawks’ first drive, including a TD of 38 yards to Dissly when he evaded a rush, scrambled to his left and then saw Dissly wide open, flipping him the ball for an easy completion. Dissly then turned and raced untouched into the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead.
That kicked off a stunningly scintillating first half for Smith as he completed his first 13 passes – just shy of the team record of 17 straight completions by Warren Moon in 1998 – in flawlessly executing Seattle’s offense.
Smith was 17-for-18 for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as Seattle drove inside Denver’s 21 – or scored – on all four of its drives.
Smith threw TD passes of 38 yards to Dissly and 25 to Colby Parkinson as the Seahawks held the lead throughout the first half.
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