With running backs dropping like flies and a defense still struggling to slow down an opponent, Geno Smith rose to the occasion to lead a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter in a 27-23 Seattle Seahawks victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Smith threw for a career-high 367 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in a critical victory for the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. Smith piloted Seattle on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with 2:56 left to play in the game capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf while he was draped by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
"Some really exciting things happened on our side, the way we finished on both sides of the ball," head coach Pete Carroll said. "Particularly to see Geno have the chance to take the team down the field and do it and just execute his tail off and have a huge game again numbers-wise. It's just what he's doing. This is the season that he's playing and we're lucky to have him."
The Seahawks needed Smith to be every bit as productive as he was on Sunday to get the victory over the Rams. All three running backs on the roster dealt with injuries throughout the game. The defense allowed 171 yards rushing to Cam Akers and company as run game struggles persisted for another week. Bobby Wagner had an interception and a pair of sacks against Smith and his former team as he tried to run Seattle day as well. But Smith delivered in the big moment when the Seahawks had to have it to get a crucial victory to keep playoff hopes high.
"That's a big time, moment, man," wide receiver Tyler Lockett said of Smith. "The biggest thing about Geno is he just puts his head down and he just works. He just does what needs to be done to be able to help us play."
For the first time this season, the Seahawks managed to win a game where they allowed over 150 yards rushing to an opponent. Facing a backup quarterback in John Wolford, a team on its 12th different offensive line combination, and a team without Cooper Kupp or Allen Robinson at receiver can make that type of outcome a possibility. Seattle still has its issues it needs to fix over the final stretch of the season, but the win over the Rams allows them to do so while still firmly in the playoff mix.
Here are the takeaways from the win in Los Angeles:
– Geno Smith carrying the Seahawks.
Geno Smith continues to answer nearly every question about his ability thrown his way.
Smith has led the Seahawks to a 7-5 record this season after a seven-year break between starting jobs. He's thrown for a career-high 3,169 yards and 22 touchdowns through 12 games for Seattle. His 72.7 percent completion percentage remains the best in the NFL as well.
Now Smith is starting to author the big moments late in games that had been lacking last year in his relief stint of quarterback Russell Wilson. He led scoring drives in the fourth quarter of wins over the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals. He delivered the game-winning drive Sunday in Los Angeles.
"He may do it again next week," Metcalf said of Smith. "He’s been doing it ever since he got here. Whenever we put him in and ask him to carry the load of being a leader as a quarterback, he’s done nothing but exceed expectations."
Smith is doing everything he can to show he's a top-tier NFL quarterback.
"Any time you can throw a game-winner, man, it's always great, especially the way that we did it today," Smith said. "We were gritty. It took every single man on the team, every player on offense, and we just continued to fight."
Smith completed 28-of-39 passes for 367 yards in the winning effort on Sunday. The lone interception came on a questionable ruling as third-string running back Tony Jones Jr. was ruled to have not fully possessed a pass before it was ripped from his grasp by Wagner.
DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett each had over 100 yards receiving on the day for Seattle with a touchdown each. Smith's third touchdown pass – a 4-yard toss to tight end Noah Fant – required a precise throw over a defender along the back of the end zone.
"He was incredible down the stretch," Carroll said of Smith. "I wish you guys can see how poised he is, how clear he is to communicate with, how calm he is in the moments, the big moments and all. He's just on it and he has to be to be performing the way he's performing so consistently for so long now. It's a remarkable statement that he's making about who he is and what he's all about and just proud as heck of him."
– Defensive struggles continue.
The Seahawks had been 0-5 this season in games where they allowed over 150 yards rushing to an opponent prior to Sunday. Seattle allowed 171 yards rushing on the ground to the Rams that needed Smith and the offense to salvage a positive result instead of a drop to 0-6 in that regard.
It's almost ridiculous to think this same group had been the best defense in the NFL over its four-game winning streak mid-season. Per Football Outsiders' DVOA metrics, that's exactly what the group had accomplished in wins over the Cardinals (twice), Giants and Los Angeles Chargers.
But outside of that, the Seahawks defense has really struggled.
Carroll said he was happy how the team adapted throughout the game after giving up 10 points on the first two drives of the game and the way they answered to close out the game in the final minute.
"I thought that the coaches on the defensive side did probably as much adjusting in this game as we've done and did some great stuff to make this game plan come together after the first couple times they had the football and really, really pulled it together in great fashion. And the guys played like crazy," Carroll said.
Tariq Woolen and Cody Barton each had interceptions in the victory. Uchenna Nwosu had two more sacks, including a forced fumble, to get to nine for the season. Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor each had sacks as well with Taylor's sack undermining the Rams' final offensive chance.
But it was still a day allowing over five yards per carry to one of the league's worst rushing teams and needing the offense to come through on a final drive to pull out a victory.
– Seahawks running game in shambles.
The Seahawks barely were able to finish Sunday's game against the Rams with any running backs available.
Ken Walker III left the game early in the second quarter due to an ankle injury as DeeJay Dallas took over the lead role. Dallas would also injure his ankle before halftime as Seattle had to turn to Tony Jones Jr. at the position.
Travis Homer was not active for the game due to an illness that limited Seattle's options to just Walker, Dallas and Jones. Walker was officially ruled out due to his injury while Dallas was listed as doubtful to return.
Carroll said that Walker "jammed" his ankle and wasn't able to return.
"He jammed his ankle and he just couldn't get back out there and get going again. He showed that he was ready to go and all but he just couldn't get back so we'll have to see what that means," Carroll said.
However, Jones took a shot from Rams defensive back Russ Yeast early in the third quarter that forced him from the game for further evaluation. With Jones now out, Dallas was forced back into the lineup with his injured ankle.
Jones was eventually cleared in concussion evaluations and allowed to return to action, but the group was clearly limited due to the injuries. It was Jones' first running back action for Seattle since joining the team in October after being claimed off waivers from the New Orleans Saints. He'd only been active for two games previously and all 11 snaps he'd played had come on special teams.
"I was really praising DeeJay Dallas for fighting through being banged up and finishing for us. Tony did a nice job coming in for us," Carroll said.
Unsurprisingly, Seattle didn't get much out of their rushing attack for the day. The Seahawks were held to just 87 yards on 20 carries from their running backs. It's the third straight game – and fourth game out of five – that the Seahawks have been held to under 90 yards rushing as a team.
Homer will presumably be back next week. Dallas was able to finish the game in reserve despite his injury, and Jones was fine once he was cleared as well. Darwin Thompson and Godwin Igwebuike are options on the practice squad if additional depth is necessary, too.
Per FOX 13's Ian Furness, Rashaad Penny told him in Los Angeles that he's making progress and has a decent chance of returning at the end of the year if the Seahawks should make the playoffs as well. Penny is recovering from a fractured fibula sustained in mid-October.
The injury to Walker will be of concern as the team further evaluates the extent of the issue.
"It's not an ankle sprain. He jammed it and so I'm not quite sure what to tell you right now. We don't know," Carroll said.
– Tariq Woolen sets Seahawks' rookie record for interceptions.
Seahawks rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen continues to build upon his standout debut campaign.
Woolen set a Seahawks franchise rookie record with his sixth interception of the season on a Wolford pass intended for running back Kyren Williams in the second quarter. The interception ties Woolen with C.J. Gardner-Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles for most in the NFL this season. It's also the most by a Seattle defender since Richard Sherman had eight in 2013.
"He's having a great season," Carroll said.
The Rams ran a bootleg right with Wolford and tried to throw back left to Williams up the sideline. Woolen looked more like the intended target of the throw than Williams did as he picked off the pass easily.
"I just fell into my zone and the running back was in my zone. I kind of like baited it a little bit and the quarterback threw it and I just went and just take the ball off," Woolen said. "Those type of balls, especially the deep ones, I feel like those are the ones I really like the most because when they come, I feel like they're mine."
Woolen then managed to break up a throw from Wolford to Tutu Atwell in the third quarter that showcased every bit of his athletic talent as well. Woolen's speed closed the gap to Atwell and his length allowed him to deflect the pass harmlessly away.
"He was beat a couple times today and came back out of it and made some plays that were really fortunate but you got to be a little lucky sometimes too," Carroll said.
Another breakup on the final drive of a pass to Ben Skowronek capped another strong day for the Seahawks' rookie.
Woolen's sixth interception moves him beyond Earl Thomas (2010) and Michael Boulware (2004) for most interceptions by a rookie. Brandon Browner had six interceptions in his first official season in Seattle in 2011, but he was no longer considered a rookie.