Seahawks ruin Russell Wilson’s return, upset Broncos
11: 23 PM ET
ESPN Senior Writer
- Covered Broncos for nine years for Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
- Previously covered Steelers, Bills and Titans
- Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame Board
of Selectors since 1999
For all of the speculation leading into Monday night’s season opener about how Wilson would be received in his first game against his old team, it was his former backup who got the loudest ovation.
And stole this show.
As Wilson was booed relentlessly, the Lumen Field crowd celebrated Smith’s big plays with chants of “GENO!” And there were just enough of them — including a pair of first-half touchdown passes — to lift Seattle to a 17-16 win. It will take years to see if the Seahawks made a good decision by trading Wilson in March for a huge draft haul, rather than trying to make things work using the greatest quarterback in franchise history. Even though it was thrilling, one game doesn’t prove that this move is valid. It does give the Seahawks some satisfaction and gives hope to their fans that this season will not be a grind.
QB breakdown: Making his first Week 1 start since 2014, Smith didn’t look like a longtime backup who’s expected to be little more than a game manager. He looked like an NFL starter. Smith completed his first 13 passes and was 17-of-18 with a pair of touchdowns during a near-perfect first half. He was precise and avoided the mistakes that plagued him last season when he was filling in for Wilson. He also used his legs to make plays, moving up in the pocket to escape the pressure and avoiding sacks. Smith finished 23-of-28 for 195 yards and two touchdown passes.
Buying the breakout performance by Seattle’s tight ends: A popular belief inside team headquarters this offseason was that tight ends would be a bigger part of the Seahawks’ offense this season — because whichever quarterback replaced Wilson would be more inclined to throw their way than he was. That looked like a prescient thought Monday night, with Will Dissly, Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson catching a combined eight passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. They had nine more targets than Seattle’s receivers. Seattle acquired Fant in the Wilson trade and re-signed Dissly for three years and $24 million after he tested free agency. When another team wanted him, the cost of signing him went up. The Broncos. The Broncos.
Pivotal play: On consecutive third-quarter possessions, the Broncos drove to Seattle’s 1-yard line and seemed poised to score the go-ahead touchdown. The Seahawks defense prevented them from reaching the end zone both times by forcing a fumble at their goal line. Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu stripped Broncos running back Javonte Williams on the second one, part of his sterling Seattle debut that also included a sack, a pass defensed and seven tackles. Nwosu was signed by the Seahawks to help them with their increased emphasis on 3-4 looks up front. The two-year, $19. 055M deal he signed in March made him the highest-paid free-agent addition in terms of APY under GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks held Denver to six goals on four trips into the red zone. — Brady Henderson
Underrated statistic to know: Geno Smith is the third quarterback since 1990 to complete each of his first 13 passes in a Week 1 game — along with Gardner Minshew ( 2019 Jaguars) and Jim Kelly (1990 Bills).
Next game: at 49ers (4: 05 p.m. ET, Sept. 18)
After an offseason filled with the hopes and dreams that came with quarterback Russell Wilson’s arrival in Denver, it was the Broncos’ defense that had some opening-night jitters.
Under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, the Broncos tried to be aggressive in the pass rush, trying to keep the ball away from Seahawks wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but it wasn’t until outside linebacker Randy Gregory ripped the ball out of Metcalf’s hands deep into the third quarter that the Broncos’ defense could settle in.
As a result, Wilson’s 340 yards passing and one touchdown were almost a nondescript footnote in a 17-16 Seattle win that ended with a missed Brandon McManus field goal attempt from 64 yards. It won’t be an easy walk through the evaluations of Denver’s defense. Seahawks tight ends caught six passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns before halftime, and Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith completed his first 13 passes of the game as part of a 17-of-18, two-touchdown performance in the opening half.
Pivotal play: The Broncos were in a slugfest from the start and never led. Their night ended when McManus missed a 64-yard field goal attempt with 14 seconds left to play. On a third-and-14 with 1: 11 left, Wilson hit Javonte Williams with a 9-yard pass, setting up a fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 46. Instead of going for the first down with three timeouts remaining immediately after the third-down pass, the Broncos ran the clock down to 20 seconds, called a timeout, then missed the field goal.
Troubling trend: Week 1 overreactions are as old as the NFL, but given the Broncos reside in a division in which the other three teams have quarterbacks who have been named to the Pro Bowl, Smith’s wheeling and dealing to 17-of-18 passing in the opening half can’t be ignored. Although Smith was hounded by the Broncos and hit him severally, he moved quickly and used his footwork to create time in the pocket, making it easy for the Broncos to pass the ball. One game does not a trend make, but the Broncos’ rushers are going to have to get to the quarterback more often, and they cannot allow any quarterback to get in a 13-of-13 rhythm to open a game.
Biggest hole in game plan: Some of it was certainly the Seahawks’ defensive game plan to keep things funneled to where the help was, but the Broncos’ wide receivers were targeted just twice in the opening half when the Seahawks took control of the tempo of the game.
Wilson didn’t put the ball in danger, which was a good thing. However, even though coach Nathaniel Hackett hoped to be aggressive offensively, the Broncos weren’t the aggressor, especially in the first half. The Broncos found it difficult to keep up with the Seahawks’ pace.
Denver’s wide receivers weren’t involved until the third quarter and into the fourth quarters.
Troubling trend II: Double-digit penalties for over 100 yards? Hackett’s relaxed approach to preseason games will be criticized. In which almost all of the starters were absent, there was no need for them to play. The penalties were on both sides of a ball and were poorly timed. Particularly, Hackett’s false start with less than 7 minutes to play and Broncos within the Seahawks 5-yard line — were too many momentum-busters. — Jeff Legwold
Underrated statistic to know: The Broncos are the first team since the 1987 Chiefs to lose two fumbles from the opponent’s 1-yard line in the same game, per Elias Sports Bureau. The last time this happened was when replacement players were used.
Next game: vs. Texans (4: 25 p.m. ET, Sept. 18)
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.