RENTON, Wash. — Geno Smith will face the team that drafted him when his Seattle Seahawks host the New York Jets on Sunday at Lumen Field, but the Pro Bowl quarterback didn’t give any impression that he considers it a so-called revenge game.
More like a must-win.
Smith was asked during his weekly media session Thursday whether there’s anything extra to the matchup given his history with the Jets.
“Not anything for me,” Smith said. “I really just feel like the importance of it is we need a win so we can get into the playoffs. Obviously, there will be some speculation, some talk about that. It comes with the territory. It’s to be expected. I got a lot of love for the Jets, the organization, and a lot of people that are still there that were there when I got drafted. So for me, and this team, it’s business as usual, another week to prepare and a tough challenge for us to go out there and try to get this win. We need it.”
Smith spoke fondly of his four seasons with the Jets, a rocky tenure that included a 12-18 record as a starter and an infamous locker room altercation that cost him his starting job. Smith, a second-round pick in 2013, was about to enter his third season in the summer of 2015 when teammate IK Enemkpali punched him, leaving him with a broken jaw. By the time Smith returned late in the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick was having a career year that would keep him in the starting role for most of the 2016 campaign.
Smith wouldn’t become a full-time starter again until he beat out Drew Lock this offseason in the competition to replace Russell Wilson. He was asked how he didn’t become bitter given how he lost his starting job in New York.
“I think that was an amazing time for me to grow and to become even more of a selfless individual,” he said. “Obviously, we have our own goals, and the way things transpired wasn’t in my plans or what I thought would happen, but it happened, and so you kind of take the approach you can’t cry over spilled milk. Also being a great teammate to the guys around me, not letting that hinder me from helping them succeed in any way that I can. That kind of became my career for a while, just being a great teammate and trying to help guys get better and doing whatever it took to help the team win outside of playing.”
Backing up Fitzpatrick gave Smith time to reflect, he said.
“It had been the first time I hadn’t played or started since I was maybe 10 years old,” he said. “I’d been playing football for a long time, started many seasons, and then, boom, something happens where now you’ve got to sit. It was different, it was challenging, but also taught me a lot and helped me grow .”
Smith threw 25 touchdowns over his first two seasons while committing a combined 41 turnovers, the third-most in the NFL in that span. But between his career day in the 2014 finale and a strong showing in the 2015 preseason, Smith felt he was ready to make a jump before his broken jaw put those hopes on hold.
“I really felt good about where I was and thought I was taking the next step, and I kind of held onto that thought process throughout the entirety of my career,” he said. “You’re right, I was very excited. Obviously a freak accident, things happen and you don’t wish for that on anybody. But it was an incredible moment for me to learn but also to practice resilience and patience. It took a lot of patience. It took a lot of hard work to even have an opportunity to compete again as a starter after all that stuff happened. I was appreciative of all the things that I went through, and obviously I was able to turn it around and make it a positive.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, perhaps attempting to absorb some of the scrutiny that will be on Smith this week, brought up the unceremonious ending to his own tenure with the Jets when asked about any conversations he has had with Smith about facing his former team. Carroll was fired after going 6-10 in his lone season as the Jets’ coach in 1994.
“Really, we’re kind of going as partners in crime in that we were both there and it didn’t quite work out right at the end,” Carroll said. “So, we’re just sharing the experience a little bit.”
The Seahawks have lost five of their past six games after a 6-3 start and now sit one game out of the NFC wild-card standings. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them a 27.4% chance to claim one of the available wild-card spots. They wouldn’t necessarily be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Jets, but they would need several things to go their way in addition to a win over the Rams in Week 18.
Smith ranks fifth in Total QBR at 63.4, nearly 20 points higher than his mark over his first nine seasons. But his production has dipped of late, with only two touchdowns over the past two games and five interceptions in as many weeks. That stretch has coincided with a drop-off in Seattle’s run game.
Asked for his assessment of Smith’s play in recent weeks, Carroll said the signal-caller can be “cleaner” with some of his mechanics.
“We can get a little bit cleaner on stuff and it’s really just technical stuff that I think could make a difference,” he said. “You’ll always hear me say that we need to play better around him to help him in all ways. But he knows he can clean a few things up. We’re being really, really strict about it, and he’s really on it . Just trying to make sure that he gives everything his best opportunity to function at a really high level. There’s just been a few plays here and there, little footwork things, and stuff like that, that we’re talking about. It’s really minor stuff, but yet it may have an impact.”
Smith is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March with his one-year, $3.5 million contract set to expire. He also has an additional $3.5 million available in incentives and would likely earn all of that if Seattle makes the playoffs.
Smith was asked if he had thought about his future beyond this season.
“My future is going to be great,” he said. “I always think that. … I’m always thinking positive on that note. But the future for me is right now, today, going out there having a great practice and getting ready for Sunday.”