Yes, Geno Smith is an NFL starter once again.
Coach Pete Carroll made the announcement Friday night, calling Seattle's quarterback battle in favor of Smith over Drew Lock after the Seahawks closed out their preseason with a 27-26 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He told the team in the locker room then relayed his decision to reporters.
"He's going to start the opener," Carroll said. "He's earned it. He won the job."
All along, Carroll has said that Smith has been ahead of Lock, noting several times how Wilson's former backup has had the edge in terms of his understanding of coordinator Shane Waldron's offense. Lock was already in catch-up mode when he missed the second preseason game with COVID-19, then he turned in an uneven performance against Dallas with a perfect touchdown pass but also three interceptions, two of which weren't entirely his fault.
Asked about his decision to go with Smith, Carroll said the 10th-year veteran kept earning the right to remain in the lead.
"We really put him up against the competition, and Drew took his shot at him all the way throughout," Carroll said. "Those guys ... they have gotten along beautifully, they've supported one another throughout. They really couldn't have done that better and in more classy, great competitor fashion. They know that they need each other and all that, and they did it right.
"But Geno, he knows our stuff and he does really well and he understands it and he can manage everything that we're doing and he's good about the football. He'll give us the best chance to play great football right off the bat."
For Lock, it's the second straight summer in which he has lost a quarterback battle.
For Smith, it's another shot at being a QB1 after his early-career struggles -- as well as an infamous locker room incident in which his jaw was broken by a sucker punch -- relegated him to backup status for most of the past seven seasons.
"It means a lot," Smith said. "I'm pretty sure it's something I've been preparing for, and the reality is that it's just Step 1. It's just the beginning. I've got to make sure that I'm ready to go out there and win and play 17 games and more. For me, I'm grateful. I'm thankful. I'm forever indebted to the Seattle Seahawks organization, but it's time to get to work."
Smith signed with Seattle in 2019, backed up Wilson for three seasons and re-signed in April on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. He has a 13-21 career record as a starter, including a 12-18 mark during his four seasons with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the second round in 2013. Smith went 1-2 last season while Wilson was out with a finger injury.
He took the vast majority of the first-team reps during the offseason program and training camp then started Seattle's mock game and all three preseason games. Lock was set to start the second preseason game and took all the No. 1 reps in practice on Tuesday of that week only to test positive for COVID-19 that afternoon, sidelining him against the Chicago Bears two days later.
Carroll previously implied that the time Lock missed with COVID-19 had pushed back his timetable on naming a starter and that he would take all the time he needed with two-and-a-half weeks left before the opener. But during Friday's postgame media session, Carroll said he was "clear" about his decision to go with Smith and that Lock "just ran out time" after the week he missed.
"He can play," Carroll of Lock, a second-round pick by Denver in 2019. "I don't have any question that he can play. I really don't. He's got all the athleticism. He's got the arm strength. He's got arm talent. He's got a creativity about him. All of that. I think he's going to be a fantastic football player soon, so it's just a matter of he just didn't quite have enough time to beat out a guy who knew exactly what he was doing and who just stayed at it and really just won the job because of his consistency and really his performance."
Smith and Lock have both said they would have the other's back no matter how the competition shakes out, something Lock reiterated after Carroll's announcement. Lock said he learned how to handle losing a quarterback battle after Teddy Bridgewater beat him out last summer in Denver and vowed to be ready for any chance he gets.
"As a competitor, you're always disappointed, and I was disappointed," Lock said of his reaction. "You want to be out there. You want to be playing with those guys. You want to be able to step on the field and show what you can do, and you're disappointed. But now it's my job to have his back and be the best teammate I can be and come out every day and find ways to make this team better and to make myself better."
Lock, acquired from Denver in the Wilson trade, outproduced Smith in one fewer game this summer but also committed more mistakes. His biggest one happened late in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he failed to adjust to an unblocked rusher who came off the edge and hit him from behind, causing a fumble that the defense recovered and costing Seattle a chance at a tying or go-ahead touchdown drive.
Between the Seahawks' mock game at Lumen Field and his two preseason games, Lock completed 42 of 66 passes (64%) for 458 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a lost fumble.
In all four games, Smith went 33-of-58 (57%) for 350 yards with no turnovers. He also ran for a touchdown. Several of Smith's incompletions during the preseason were the result of drops, prompting Carroll to say more than once that his receivers needed to help him more.
Smith went 3-of-6 for 43 yards and led a field goal drive on his lone possession Friday. Lock took over and played well into the fourth quarter, finishing 13-of-24 for 171 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. On the first interception, Dee Eskridge appeared to not work back to the football. The third one bounced off Aaron Fuller's chest and right to a Dallas defender.
"I think there's three throws I definitely want back," Lock said. "I think there's a lot of good plays on tape too, though. Learn from those bad ones. Just take care of the football."
Lock said his recent bout with COVID-19 "kind of kicked my butt a little bit," calling it an interesting experience because he felt nothing more than a headache when he had it last time. On the day he tested positive, Aug. 16, Lock struggled noticeably in practice and felt too sick to take part in any post-practice work. He said Friday that COVID-19 wasn't an excuse for how he played against Dallas, but he acknowledged that missing the Chicago game last week was a setback.
"Obviously I was very disappointed that I didn't get to play that game," he said. "But I came out, practiced this week, got better and had an opportunity tonight."
Smith said he has "turned the corner" in terms of taking better care of the ball, an issue early in his career. He was set to return for a third season as the Jets' starter in 2015 before teammate IK Enemkpali broke his jaw during a fight in the locker room. He left the Jets after the 2016 season then started only four games over the next five seasons while backing up three of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Wilson.
"I've always done my best, and sometimes God doesn't put things in the cards for you," Smith said. "I was always prepared, I was always ready, and I always gave everything I had to my teammates, and I believe that because I've strived and continued to get better, the opportunity has arose."