Okay, so it’s an odd season. I’d argue most seasons have a chunk of bizarre after seven weeks. The Cards were 7-0 on this date a year ago. Kansas City scored three points in Week Seven last year. Things happen.
This year, the weirdness includes Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson all having losing records. The defending Super Bowl champs, the Rams, are 3-3, and probably are lucky to be 3-3. The Jets and Giants have firm grips on playoff spots.
But the story of the first two months of this season is the comeback story of all comeback stories. Geno Smith is good. He’s really good. He’s the most accurate quarterback in football, he’s the third-highest-rated quarterback in football, he’s in the top five in MVP consideration right now, and he’s got the Seattle Seahawks alone in first place in the NFC West.
He’s also totally unsurprised.
“After not playing much for eight years,” I asked Smith Sunday evening, “what’s one or two things that have surprised you so far this year?”
“Nothing,” Smith told me evenly after Seattle’s 37-23 win at the Chargers Sunday. “Nothing has surprised me. In fact, I know I can play a lot better.”
On a day when Taylor Heinicke beat Aaron Rodgers, P.J. Walker beat Tom Brady, Christian McCaffrey wore a new number for a new team, and Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes chased perfection, Smith had a pretty modest day: 20 of 27, 210 yards, two TDs. He wasn’t even his team’s biggest star. Kenneth Walker, the rookie running back, was unstoppable.
When you haven’t played much for the last eight years, you could give a flip about things like credit and headlines. You exult in the everyday joy of playing football when you thought there was a pretty good chance you’d never have the chance to be handed the reins of a team again. Geno Smith was invisible for seven years. And now we see you, Geno. Everyone sees you.
Smith won over Pete Carroll last year by his confidence when playing three games for the injured Russell Wilson. But no one in the organization thought when they traded Wilson that Smith would be a 30-percent upgrade over what Wilson would become in Denver.
His two touchdown throws to Marquise Goodwin against the Chargers were perfect examples of what Smith has become. On the first one, toward the right side of the end zone five yards in, Smith threw about 38 yards in the air to a spot where only Goodwin could make the catch. On the second, slightly deeper on the left side, Smith threw a high ball again that only Goodwin could catch, and he made it look easy over J.C. Jackson with his great leaping ability.
Marquise up top for No. 2️⃣ today!
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 23, 2022
Not the greatest throws of the NFL weekend. But exactly where they should be, timed perfectly. Surprised Smith is completing 73.5 percent? You wouldn’t be if you watched those throws.
That’s where I’ll start our conversation — with Smith’s accuracy. The last time he was a regular starter, with the Jets in 2013 and ’14, he completed 57.5 percent. And yet, the 16-percent increase barely impresses him. I’m going to present his words as a stream of consciousness, because he spoke in long paragraphs and made quite a bit of sense, so I’ll let him explain this unexpected season.
”In my rookie year playing with the Jets, we went 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game. The reality is, it’s hard to win the NFL with a young quarterback. That’s just the reality of the NFL. So much goes on that you have to know in order to be successful. Quarterbacking is a skill more than just a talent. I’m just happy I’ve just continued to develop.
“I know I might’ve struggled out the gate in pro football. That’s just the reality of the NFL. Sometimes they give up on you fast. The numbers at the beginning of my career are kind of skewed if you ask me. If you look at Peyton Manning, if you just judge his rookie season, you’d never think Peyton Manning would’ve become what he became. Steve Young too. Troy Aikman. The list goes on and on and on. Just gotta have patience with young quarterbacks. You gotta find the right young quarterbacks with the right mentality who are gonna continue to work and have a great attitude about the game and the struggle.
“Over the years, not playing was heartbreaking. I’m so competitive and I love playing so much that I really wanted to be out there every single game. But what’s that cliche? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I know I’m better for all those years. Coming into this year, I wasn’t sure what would happen [after the trade of Wilson to Denver]. When Pete Carroll hit me up and was like, ‘Hey I’m giving you opportunity to compete for the job,’ I mean, that’s all you have to say to me. That was awesome. He’s shown faith in me. That’s just what I need.
“You ask me what am I focused on during the week. Playing hard, doing what I’m coached to do. It’s that simple. I don’t think about failure. My thought process is I need to run on the field with my linemen and play just as hard as they’re playing and do exactly what I’m coached to do and then let my talent take over after that. It’s that simple in my mind.
“Our success so far starts with the trust and belief of our head coach. Not many coaches would start two rookies on the offensive line, a rookie running back, two rookie cornerbacks. Not many coaches would be comfortable starting a quarterback who hasn’t played in many years. But Pete does it because he knows what he’s looking at. He’s played young guys before, lots of times. He’s taken chances on players, lots of time. He knows how to coach ball. You can see that this year.
“I think we’re built to last for this season and many seasons. But ultimately, it comes down to what we do, not what we say. It’s about the work we put in. it’s about the consistency. And our preparation and consistency and our togetherness. That’s all that matters. As long as we continue to build together, the sky’s the limit. It takes work. It takes hard work. We gotta embrace that part of it.”
That is one mature dude. No bitterness about being kicked to the curb for so long. Just gratitude for his place in the game, right here, right now.