SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Geno Smith was brilliant in the first half Saturday, completing nine of 10 attempts and throwing a pinpoint touchdown pass to DK Metcalf to give the Seattle Seahawks a one-point lead over the heavily favored San Francisco 49ers.
He was shaky in the second half, committing two turnovers as the 49ers pulled away for a 41-23 victory in the wild-card round at Levi’s Stadium.
Smith was emotional afterward, his eyes watering up as he expressed his desire to remain with the Seahawks. Smith, whose one-year contract is set to expire in March, was asked what will be most important to him as he heads toward free agency.
“I want to finish my career in Seattle,” he said. “I want to be here. The town, the city, the team, Coach [Pete] Carroll, the organization — they all embraced me. I was a guy who probably could have been out of the league. They embraced me, and I want to repay them for that.”
Smith was asked to elaborate on how he wants to repay the Seahawks.
“Because like I said, Coach Carroll and the organization, they embraced me at a time when not many people were,” Smith said. “I feel like that means a lot to me. I’ve got a lot of loyalty in me, and I want to repay those guys for doing that.”
Asked if he expects to be back, Smith said, “I do.” When asked if the Seahawks have given him any indication that he’ll be re-signed, he said, “Those things will work themselves out. We’ll get to that when the time comes, but I feel really great about it.”
In a stunning career turnaround that perhaps no one but Smith himself saw coming, the 32-year-old quarterback went from a backup for most of the past seven seasons to a Pro Bowl selection — and maybe Seattle’s long-term starter.
After beating out Drew Lock — the widely presumed winner of the offseason battle to replace Russell Wilson — Smith tossed 30 touchdown passes in the regular season, broke Wilson’s franchise records for completions (399), passing yards (4,282) and completion percentage (69.8%) and led the Seahawks to an unexpected playoff berth as the NFC’s seventh seed.
But Smith threw seven interceptions over the final seven regular-season games and struggled to take care of the ball in the second half Sunday against the 49ers’ No. 1-ranked defense.
The Seahawks closed as 9-point underdogs but took a 17-16 halftime lead thanks in part to Smith’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Metcalf in the second quarter. He threw another touchdown pass to Metcalf late in the fourth, by which point the game had well been decided.
Smith’s lost fumble late in the third quarter was a turning point. Down 23-17, the Seahawks had driven to San Francisco’s 19-yard line when Smith stepped up in the pocket on third down. He had two hands on the ball and was holding it against his chest but was still stripped by Charles Omenihu. Nick Bosa recovered and the 49ers took a 14-point lead on their ensuing possession.
Smith threw an interception in the fourth quarter, right after San Francisco extended its lead to 21 points. He finished 25-of-35 for 253 yards and added 28 rushing yards on four carries.
“Everything for me has to get better,” Smith said, displaying the same accountability he has during the other low moments of his breakout season. “I’m not at all satisfied. I don’t feel good about what happened today. I feel like we could have kept going. … I’ve just got to be better and I’m going to take this one personally.”
Smith signed a one-year deal that carries a base value of $3.5 million. He earned another $3.5 million via incentives that were tied to passing yards, passing touchdowns, the Pro Bowl and playing time. Smith was the only quarterback to take every one of his team’s offensive snaps during the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“He led a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year to the playoffs this year,” safety Quandre Diggs said. “We wouldn’t be here without Geno. … We embraced him, but he’s always been one of us. Even when he was the backup quarterback, we all had a really close relationship with Geno. … I think that shows you the type of player, the type of personality that he has. He meshes with all the guys. All the guys believe in him.”
Even with his shaky finish, Smith ranked sixth in QBR (61.1) during the regular season, first in completion rate, eighth in passing yards and 10th in touchdown-to-interception ratio (30-11). He was the league’s most accurate quarterback based on completion percentage above expectation and adjusted completion rate and ranked eighth in rushing yards among QBs (366).
“He’s for real,” Carroll said. “Geno’s the real deal. He can do all of the things that a terrific quarterback does. His movement was probably more of a surprise than anything, that he was so efficient with his movement. He could always throw it. But his ability to stay poised and calm throughout the season, throughout the year, with all of the hype and the buildup. He could have gone south five different times, and he didn’t. He never wavered. His leadership really stood out. His voice in the locker room … he said the right stuff all year, right up until today. It’s a great story … Geno’s found his best and he’s ready to come back and go again. I thought he had just an unbelievably great season for us.”
Carroll expressed some uncertainty when asked about Smith’s future last Sunday, saying the Seahawks will have a great quarterback situation going forward if they can re-sign Smith and Lock, who’s also a pending free agent. Carroll was asked Saturday if he plans on Smith being Seattle’s quarterback next season.
“I hope so,” Carroll said. “I hope so.”