Okay, so it’s a strange time of year. I would argue that most seasons are a bit bizarre at seven weeks. The cards were 7-0 on this day a year ago. Kansas City scored three points in week seven last year. Things happen.
This year, craziness includes Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, who all lost records. The defending Super Bowl champions, the Rams, are 3-3 and likely lucky to be 3-3. The Jets and Giants have a firm grip on the 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 tallest quarterback in football, he’s in the top 5 in MVP count right now, and he’s alone has the Seattle Seahawks in first place in the NFC West.
He’s also completely unsurprised.
“After eight years of not playing much,” I asked Smith Sunday night, “what has surprised you so far this year?”
“Nothing,” Smith told me calmly after Seattle’s 37-23 win at the Chargers Sunday. “Nothing surprised me. In fact, I know I can play a lot better.”
On a day when Taylor Heinicke beat Aaron Rodgers, PJ 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 the biggest star on his team. Kenneth Walker, the rookie running back, was unstoppable.
If you haven’t played much in the past eight years, you might be concerned about things like credit and headlines. You cheer on the everyday joy of playing football when you thought you’d probably never get your hands on the reins of a team again. Geno Smith was invisible for seven years. And now see you Geno. everyone sees you
Smith won over Pete Carroll last year through confidence as he played 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 improvement over what Wilson would become in Denver.
His two touchdown shots against Marquise Goodwin against the Chargers were perfect examples of what Smith has become. On the first, on the right side of the end zone, five yards down, Smith threw about 38 yards in the air to a point where only Goodwin could catch. On the second, a little lower on the left, Smith threw another high ball that only Goodwin could catch and he made it look easy over JC Jackson with his great bounce.
Climb to the top today for 2nd place️⃣!
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 23, 2022
Not the biggest throws of the NFL weekend. But right where they should be, perfectly timed. Surprised Smith completes 73.5 percent? You wouldn’t be if you were watching these litters.
This is where I will begin our conversation – with Smith’s precision. Most recently, he was a regular starter, with the 2013 and ’14 Jets, completing 57.5 percent. And yet the 16 percent growth hardly impresses him. I’m going to render 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 with the Jets, we went 8-8 and missed the playoffs by a game. The reality is that it’s difficult to win the NFL with a young quarterback. That’s just the reality of the NFL. There is so much happening that you need to know to be successful. Quarterbacking is a skill, more than just a talent. I’m just glad that I’ve just evolved.
“I know that in professional football I might have fought my way through the goal. That’s just the reality of the NFL. Sometimes they give up on you quickly. The numbers early in my career are a bit skewed if you ask me. If you look at Peyton Manning, just judging his rookie season, you would never believe that Peyton Manning would have become what he has become. Steve Young too. Troy Aikman. The list goes on and on and on. You just have to be patient with young quarterbacks. You have to find the right young quarterbacks with the right mentality who keep going and have a great attitude towards the game and the fight.
“Over the years, not playing has been heartbreaking. I am so ambitious and love to play so much that I really wanted to be in every single game. But what is this cliché? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I know I’ve gotten better over the years. Coming into this year I wasn’t sure what was going to happen [after the trade of Wilson to Denver]. When Pete Carroll called me and said, “Hey, I’m giving you a chance to compete for the job,” I mean, that’s all you have to tell me. That was wonderful. He has shown confidence in me. That’s exactly what I need.
“You ask me what I focus on during the week. Playing hard, doing what I’m taught to do. It’s that simple. I don’t think about failure. My thought process is I have to run out on the field with my linemen and play as hard as they play and do exactly what I’m coached to do and then let my talent take over. It’s that simple in my opinion.
“Our success to date starts with the trust and belief of our head coach. Not many coaches would start two rookies on the offensive line, one rookie running back, two rookie cornerbacks. Not many coaches would feel comfortable starting a quarterback who hasn’t played in many years. But Pete does it because he knows what he’s seeing. He has often played against young people. He risked a lot of time with players. He knows how to train ball. You can see that this year.
“I think we are built for this season and many seasons. But at the end of the day, what matters is what we do, not what we say. It’s about the work we put into it. It’s about persistence. And our preparation and consistency and our togetherness. That’s all that counts. As long as we keep building together, the sky is the limit. It takes work. It takes hard work. We have to embrace that part of it.”
This is a mature guy. No bitterness at being kicked to the side of the road for so long. Just gratitude for his place in the game, right here and now.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column