The Seahawks needed Geno Smith's first game-winning drive more than ever

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Geno Smith’s stuffy voice was the only thing that sounded different about the Seattle Seahawks quarterback after they escaped SoFi Stadium on Sunday with a 27-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

They had just snapped their two-game losing streak and avoided what would have been a disastrous loss thanks mostly to Smith’s latest gem: a career-high 367 passing yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 41 seconds left. But like he has throughout his resurgent season, Smith deflected praise with team-centric answers.

What did it mean to deliver that winning drive?

“For us, it meant a lot,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re fighting to try to get into the playoffs.”

Smith delivering with the game on the line meant everything. It was one of the only boxes he had yet to check in his fairytale journey from longtime backup to Pro Bowl-caliber starter at age 32.

“It’s good to put in your back pocket,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We're going to need him down the stretch here and we're going to need more games like that.”

He’s statistically been the NFL’s most accurate quarterback this season, based on both standard completion percentage and metrics that factor the difficulty of each throw. He’s played with patience, showing a willingness to check it down when the deep shots aren’t there. He’s made plays with his legs, throwing six of his 22 touchdown passes from outside of the pocket, tied for most in the league.

But until Sunday, he had yet to lead Seattle on a game-winning drive in the closing minutes. He couldn’t do it in three tries last year while filling in for Russell Wilson or in three tries earlier this season, coming up short in narrow losses to the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders.

Not that those late-game failures were all Smith’s fault. But it was nonetheless the only real hole on Smith’s resume.

“Honestly, I've been aware that he needs that,” Carroll said. “He needs one of those chances to do it. It just hasn't worked out quite right. But he was incredible down the stretch.”

The Seahawks trailed 23-20 when they took over at their own 25-yard line. They had just under three minutes on the clock and all three of their timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning. But with a short-handed backfield that was down to fourth-string running back Tony Jones Jr. and a hobbled DeeJay Dallas, Smith and the Seahawks’ passing game were going to have to carry the load -- and they did.

Nine of 10 plays on their 75-yard drive were passes. He completed six of them for 65 yards, including a scramble throw that he zipped into the end zone through a tight window to DK Metcalf, who snagged it with All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey all over him.

Smith kept the ball from his signature moment as a Seahawk.

“It felt like during this season we had some opportunities where we could have done the same thing and might have fell short,” he said. “And so as we continue on late into the season, you want to show improvement and I think that's what it showed -- a lot of grit, determination. You see a bunch of different guys made plays, made catches and the offensive line did a great job. … That's what the playoff games are going to feel like and it was real good to get a win.”

Smith said he was “hurting” when he woke up Sunday, confirming that he’d been hit with the illness that made its way around the Seahawks’ facility last week. Smith didn’t miss any practice last week, but eight of his teammates were out sick on Thursday.

So was this the Geno Flu Game?

“Nah, we ain’t saying that,” he said with a laugh. “It wasn’t a big enough game, but it was a good way to win.”

The Seahawks needed the win to keep pace with the San Francisco 49ers, who also won Sunday to maintain their one-game lead in the NFC West but lost Jimmy Garoppolo to a season-ending foot injury in the process. At 7-5, the Seahawks are back in playoff position, currently sitting in the NFC’s seventh and final spot.

As of Monday, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them an 81.1% chance to make the playoffs. Their FPI chances of winning the division shot up from under 8% last week to over 30% now that the 49ers are turning to rookie Brock Purdy at quarterback.

The Seahawks still have a suspect defense, which had a harder time than it should have on Sunday against a Rams offense that was starting a backup quarterback and missing its top two receivers. Seattle’s run game had already hit a wall before losing Kenneth Walker III to an ankle injury that has his status for this week’s game against the Carolina Panthers in question.

But they have a favorable remaining schedule with four of their final five games at home, including a rematch with the 49ers in which they might now be favored. And they have a quarterback in Smith who’s shown this season that he can do pretty much everything, including delivering in the clutch.

“It was great to see him do it and have a chance to make a heroic finish like that,” Carroll said. “That's what these guys do when they're great and he did one today. It's an all-time comeback drive and he did it perfectly.”