Geno Versus Russ… and the Seahawks Upset Denver

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Seahawks QB Geno Smith shakes hands with Denver QB Russell Wilson after the season-opening matchup. (Image: Seahawks)

A main reason Russell Wilson wanted to get away from the Seahawks was to find a team that would let its offense run through him. Not throttle him.

But that’s what the Denver Broncos did Monday night – the same sort of approach Wilson resented in his final Seattle years. Instead of trusting their quarterback to win the season-opening game on fourth down in the final 15 seconds, rookie Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett pulled his superstar, recently rewarded with a $245 million contract extension, and opted for a high-risk, 64-yard field goal attempt. It failed.

Maybe,” said new Seahawks linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, “they don’t trust him in that situation.” Oof. The dagger goes deep. The 6.5-point underdog Seahawks prevailed, 17-16, after the silliest decision since gravel ice cream. Unless, of course, you were Pete Carroll. Then the decision was sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

“I was surprised they took him out of there,” said the beaming Seahawks coach, beneficiary of 10 years of Wilson’s preposterous late-game wizardry. “Gave us a chance.” National TV cameras captured the stunned look on Wilson’s face as he sat on the opposite sideline of his former Lumen Field home, where for the first time he felt the heat instead of the celebration. The game’s awkward outcome fit an awkward, five-month run-up to the game.

After the NFL in April booked the revenge game as its featured drama on opening weekend, debate raged among Seattle fans about whether to accept the NFL’s most intriguing off-season deal and show Wilson respect for his spectacular deeds, or rain fire. They chose the latter, resoundingly.

Well beyond the standard boos that are delivered to any opponent, Wilson’s pre-game appearances invited magnum disdain. When he took the field for the opening drive, the former Super Bowl champion was caustically villainized. The impact plausibly altered the game. The Broncos were penalized 12 times for 106 yards, including several false starts and delay of game penalties partly attributable to noise. The audio riot may have contributed to the Broncos’ two fumbles at the south end goal line that denied what seemed like almost certain touchdowns.

The Broncos were the first team since the 1987 Chiefs to lose two fumbles from the opponent’s 1-yard line in the same game, per Elias Sports Bureau. “The fans were ridiculous,” Carroll said. “I’m so pleased.”

As was the entire organization. It took on the laborious, controversial decision to trade a premier QB in his prime, knowing they had neither an obvious younger successor on the roster nor a top-tier replacement from a draft that was the weakest in years at the QB spot. Plus, $26 million of Wilson’s contract is charged to the Seahawks under the salary cap as dead money that can’t be used for other players’ salaries.

Persistently, Carroll said after the March 8 trade with Denver that he already had his guy – Geno Smith, the shopworn, longtime backup. Smith showed glimpses in his 2021 stint of three games as Wilson’s injury replacement, but he was neither spectacular nor consistent. Many fans and national media scorned the deal.

It can’t be judged fairly until the Seahawks use Denver’s first- and second-round picks from the 2023 draft. But for a single warm night in September 2022, the Seahawks could check the box marked “early validation.” Except Carroll would not indulge the notion of validation.

“I don’t feel like validation,” he said. “I wasn’t after that. You all might think I should have been, with all this (winning the trade) being talked about. Really, we had a great process to get ready for this game and these guys.” That process produced an efficient stat line from Smith – 23 of 28 passing for 195 yards, two touchdowns and, crucially, no turnovers from him (WR DK Metcalf lost a fumble). In the first half, when the Seahawks scored all their points, he completed 17 of 18 passes.

Seahawks safety Jamal Adams nearly sacked Denver’s Russell Wilson, although on this play Adams’ knee was injured. (Image: Seahawks)

“Geno was the best he’s ever been,” said Carroll. “He was ready for this game.” Said Smith: “People wrote me off. I didn’t write back.” Wilson meanwhile was good – 29 of 42 for 340 yards and a TD, for a passer rating of 101.3. Smith’s was 119.5, and he also had 14 rushing yards, while Wilson had two, neglecting a part of his game that always distinguished his work.

Notably, the Broncos’ play-calling was conservative, including the two goal-line handoffs that turned into fumbles. Why not leave it in the hands of Wilson? And despite a resolute effort against him by the Seahawks’ revamped defense, why not let your most expensive player handle the final play?

As ever, Wilson refused to offer any public criticism post-game of coach or player. “I believe in coach Hackett,” he said. “I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in everything. Any time you can try to make a play on fourth-and-five, that’s great too. But, also, I don’t think it was the wrong decision . . . If we were in that situation again, I wouldn’t doubt what he decided.”

Wilson voiced similar misdirection when he operated under Carroll. The coach was asked what he said to Wilson post-game at midfield. After a pause, he said, “I don’t really remember . . . ‘nice game.’”

Right. Carroll remembers most everything. At least now, he can forget, victoriously, about this much-typed games. As can fans. Before the game, a couple holding hands walked through Pioneer Square headed to the stadium. The guy was asked about his decision to wear his blue Seahawks jersey number three. He smiled. “It’s got one more wear in it today,” he said. “Then I burn it.”

The therapy around the departure of the best player in franchise history is underway a little faster than expected.

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Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Good for Geno. Good of the Broncos to lose two fumbles at the goal line. Seahawks upcoming draft pick from Denver just got a tick better with the game’s outcome. (Of course Seattle’s own pick dropped by the same amount)

    • Two important Geno gems — Stepping up straight ahead in the pocket and lofting the ball over defenders for completions. Wilson never did it that way because he was too short.

  2. The “Star Look” Russell had coming into the stadium was all I needed to see…..
    Seattle was lucky BUT they were ready. The plan to decoy our deep threats and throw to TEs and backs was perfect, BUT missed tackles will keep us from challenging. Geno needs to learn to move up in the pocket .
    Russ needed a humility lesson – thought he was happy about the FG call – as he IS NOT the PLAYER he was or thinks he is.

    • Did you watch? Geno stepped up well, but it can’t be done each time because of the rush packages.

      As for Wilson, all great pro players get humbled occasionally. But the bigger mistake was made by Broncos ownership in giving the contract extension to a guy who won’t be nearly the runner/escape artist he was.

    • I think it was when I was carried in on a sedan chair surrounded by elephants, dancers and fountains of wine. Did I mention the full orchestra playing Carmina Burana? Brewster does that for everyone at Post Alley.

  3. Seahawks had a solid game plan and the players were inspired. They seemed to want to show the MNF crowd that in the past it wasn’t the Russell Wilson and the Wilsonaires show. The defense especially played well and the O-Line gave Geno good protection. Denver contained DK, Lockett and the running game for the most part but forgot the TE’s who made the difference. The 12s never let up on Russ. I half expected them to rain down dollar bills at him like M’s fans did to ARod. Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman have really let Denver or Wilson have it on Twitter. Those two used to keep Russ humble.

    • The welcome was a bit A-Rod-esque. And the ex-Seahawks really enjoyed Wilson being pulled from the game for a 64-yard FG attempt. Now that he’s gone, their dislike is coming forth.

      • Yeah, the Broncos coaching staff is getting roasted for not giving the ball to Wilson in the final minutes despite his resume and salary. And it always amazes me how new head coaches forget about time clock management when they certainly saw it as a coordinator. Troy Aikman’s face said it all and Peyton Manning was hilarious on his podcast when he saw it all unfold.

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