DETROIT -- Standing at the podium inside Ford Field after his Seattle Seahawks had just escaped with a win in a shootout against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Pete Carroll offered a smile and an indirect answer when asked if Geno Smith’s hot start to the season has exceeded his expectations.
It was seemingly a tacit acknowledgement that the quarterback has been better than even the NFL’s most optimistic head coach anticipated.
“He’s playing pretty good football, man,” said Carroll, shaking his head.
Over in the visitor’s locker room, receiver Tyler Lockett broke into a brief chant when asked about one of the many big plays Smith made during Seattle’s 555-yard offensive outburst. Up by seven early in the fourth quarter, Smith hung in the pocket against an all-out blitz just long enough to float a throw over the middle to Lockett for a 34-yard gain, taking a big shot from a Lions rusher in the process.
“Hey man,” a smiling Lockett said, “GE-NO, GE-NO.”
But before the locker room opened to reporters, veteran defensive tackle and co-captain Al Woods addressed the team with a message that acknowledged the sobering reality of the Seahawks’ 48-45 win -- their offense bailed out a defense that continues to struggle badly.
Smith, who’s played well during Seattle’s first three games, was brilliant on Sunday while accounting for three touchdowns and 369 yards of offense. The run game, a non-factor during Seattle’s 1-2 start, came alive against the Lions as Rashaad Penny delivered 151 yards and a pair of long touchdown runs to close out a narrow victory that should‘ve been a blowout.
With their defense putting up its worst performance of what had already been another poor start -- against a Lions offense that was missing three of its playmakers in D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark -- the Seahawks needed everything they got from Smith and Co.
Hence Woods’ locker room address, which he later relayed to ESPN as this: "Just basically showing love to the offense basically for carrying us.”
The Seahawks went the entire game without punting for the first time in franchise history, scoring on seven of their nine possessions (as well as on a Tariq Woolen pick-six). The two exceptions were a missed 39-yard field goal from Jason Myers (who hit from 56 and 25 yards on Sunday) and the final drive, which ended with the two kneel-downs. Their 555 yards of offense were their fifth-most all-time.
Smith got his big day going early, delivering a pinpoint back-shoulder throw to tight end Will Dissly in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown pass on an 80-yard opening drive. That made amends for Smith overshooting an open Lockett on a deep shot a few plays earlier, one of the few mistakes he made all game.
The lack of deep completions has been one area where Seattle’s offense has experienced an expected dropoff from Russell Wilson. One area where it’s been better under Smith: getting tight ends involved. Dissly’s touchdown was his third of the season. Colby Parkinson had one in the opener. Noah Fant got on the board Sunday with a 2-yard score on a play that had him wide open in the end zone. That was Smith’s sixth passing touchdown of the season compared to two interceptions.
And while no one will confuse Smith for the mad scrambler that Wilson was early in his career, he showed on Sunday that he can still make plays with his legs. He ran for an 8-yard score, converted a third-and-7 with a 17-yard scramble and finished with 49 rushing yards. Smith, who turns 32 next week, would have topped his previous career high of 50 had he not been docked two yards on consecutive kneel-downs to end the game.
Smith entered Week 3 with the NFL’s best completion percentage by a wide margin. By completing 23 of 30 attempts (for 320 yards) in what is becoming a typically efficient performance, he’s now at 77.3%. That’s the highest completion rate in NFL history through a team’s first four games among quarterbacks who attempted at least 125 passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Not bad for a long-time backup who’s widely presumed to merely be a bridge to Wilson’s long-term successor, and who was by no means the obvious favorite to beat out Drew Lock in their offseason competition.
“I’m just thrilled for [Smith] and for our guys that he’s had this kind of early success to jump start this season and show us that we can play really good football with him at the helm,” Carroll said. “And he’s just been so rock steady throughout this whole process, and then he’s playing and doing it, taking it on the road.”
The Seahawks -- 2-2 with a road game against the New Orleans Saints up next -- will need to pull off another massive turnaround on defense like they did in each of the past two seasons if they want to make anything out of 2022. They’ll need to do it without one of their best playmakers in Jamal Adams, who’s out with a quadriceps-tendon injury that required surgery. And they’ll need to do it in a hurry, because as good as Smith has been, no quarterback could be expected to continue leading the kind of offensive explosion that it took for the Seahawks to beat the 1-3 Lions.
Penny was asked what Smith has shown through four weeks.
“That he’s a starting quarterback, and maybe even more,” Penny said. “I mean, he’s winning games for us.”