Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson watches Paxton Lynch outplay Geno Smith, Seahawks win preseason opener

After Paxton Lynch signed with the Seahawks this winter after a year out of the NFL watching games from his couch, he said his goal was “to show them that they can trust me.”

They trust more now than before Thursday night.

Russell Wilson did not play.

Lynch did. Better than Geno Smith.

The competition to be Wilson’s backup quarterback this Seahawks season tilted more toward Lynch Thursday night in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos at CenturyLink Field.

With Wilson not playing in preseason game number one for the first time in his career. Smith started. The former New York Jets and Giants starter struggled, as he has for the last week of training camp. He was 3 for 9 passing with two sacks and a 56.7 passer rating in the first half.

Lynch, the former Broncos first-round pick who was far behind Smith a few days into camp, lit up his former team after entering to begin the third quarter. His two scores—a 6-yard pass to undrafted rookie Jazz Ferguson and a 9-yard scramble run on which Lynch spun off a hit and reached across the goal line—were the game’s first touchdowns in Seattle’s 22-14 victory.

“It felt great. It felt good to have all that hard work pay off,” said Lynch, Denver’s failed former first-round draft choice who spent last year watching NFL games from his couch after the Broncos gave up on him.

“I had a lot to prove to myself tonight, so I feel like I went out there and I did that.”

A lot to prove, such as: I can still play in this league.

Lynch completed 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards, a 115.7 passer rating and the touchdown to Ferguson. Seattle’s only touchdowns and 208 of its 301 yards of offense and 13 of its 18 first downs came from Lynch leading the offense.

“I thought I did a good job of just moving the ball, taking completions when I had the opportunity to, and taking my shots when they were there,” Lynch said. “I know there are some things that I can do better. ...But my main goal was to go out there and move the ball with these guys, and win. And that’s what we did.”

Coach Pete Carroll said Lynch “handled himself well.”

“I thought Paxton Lynch did a really good job...good tempo with the game.

“He lit up the whole team. He was really good.”

The only true downer of an encouraging Seahawks night: offensive tackle George Fant went down in the first half with what Carroll said was a “legit” sprained ankle. In Carroll-speak, “legit” often translates into “he is going to be out a long time.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Carroll said of Fant, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee two years ago this month and missed the 2017 season.

Fant’s injury may affect what Seattle does at tight end. Fant was an extra one in running situations last season, and an effective blocker in that role. The Seahawks led the league is rushing offense in 2018.

Wilson was in full uniform and fully participated in pregame drills. Expect him to play in 10 days when the Seahawks play their second preseason game, at Minnesota.

WIlson spent some of the first half on the bench next to Smith, who Carroll after the game will have a cyst removed from his knee on Friday. Smith is expected to be out a week to 10 days or so.

Carroll had said “this is the game that we dedicate to the rooks.”

So how’d they do?

Ferguson caught all four passes thrown to him, two by simply out-muscling and leaping over defenders, for 54 yards. The early leader to become Seattle’s breakout undrafted rookie for 2019 endeared himself to Carroll by losing 12 pounds between June and the start of training camp in late July, after coaches told him he was too heavy and slow.

Seattle’s two most prominent, available rookies showed flashes of brilliance, and room for growth.

First-round draft choice L.J. Collier missed the game and is out indefinitely with a rare sprain in his foot and ankle.

Second-round pick DK Metcalf, a heralded attraction so his first spring and summer with the Seahawks, caught the first pass thrown to him, 8 yards from Smith. Then the 6-foot-4, 229-pound physical freak with 4.33-second speed in the 40-yard dash ran past Denver cornerback De’Vante Bausby down the right sideline on a go route. Smith’s first long ball of the night sailed a yard past and wide of him.

On a third down Smith held onto the ball longer than Metcalf was open on a curl route at the line to gain. By the time the ball arrived, Bausy banged into Metcalf from behind and the pass went off Metcalf’s hands incomplete to end the drive.

Later in the first half, Metcalf beat Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom down the opposite sideline with a head-and-shoulder fake outside. Yiadom bit hard on that. Metcalf ran free 2 yards inside of him at about the Denver 10-yard line. But Smith’s throw was again a tick too far, off Metcalf’s outstretched fingertips.

It’s not inconceivable that with Wilson as quarterback, Metcalf would have had two touchdown catches on those plays in the first half of his first NFL game.

Marquise Blair, the safety the Seahawks drafted in earlier than Metcalf in the second round this spring because of his hard hitting in college at Utah, got a long first look. He entered for three consecutive plays on the first drive of the game, after veteran Shalom Luani started at strong safety.

Lano Hill, the 2017 draft choice, did not play. He is returning from a cracked hip that ended his 2018 season early.

If Luani, Blair or Hill emerge as a sure tackler and cover man this month, it would likely move Bradley McDougald to free safety to replace departed All-Pro Earl Thomas this season.

The Seahawks at times interchanged Blair and veteran DeShawn Shead at free and strong safety in the first and second quarters. Blair had two sure tackles in the first half. The first was in the open field immediately after a catch in the flat. The second was behind the line of scrimmage on a safety blitz against an inside run by the Broncos.

That’s why Seattle drafted him in the second round.

Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. blitzed his safeties up the middle at least four times. The last time, Akeem King hit Lock’s arm as he tried to throw. Veteran cornerback Jamar Taylor continued his strong training camp with an interception off King’s hit.

Seattle needs creativity and options for pass rushing beyond its iffy front four this season. Blitzing from the back as effectively as the Seahawks did Thursday would help.

But the Broncos took advantage of Blair’s over-eagerness at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter to set up their second field goal. On one play, Blair raced in free on the quarterback, on what wasn’t a called blitz. On an ensuring snap, Shead moved his rookie safety partner up to the line of scrimmage opposite Broncos slot wide receiver Nick Williams. Williams went in motion toward the quarterback at the snap. Blair followed Williams, who then crashed down on defensive end Rasheem Green as if he was pass blocking.

Blair got fooled by Williams’ ruse. The rookie, thinking he was free of pass-coverage responsibility with Williams apparently blocking, again raced in free on Denver rookie quarterback Drew Lock. Lock waited for Williams to break off the would-be block and run into the flat—into the space Blair should have been. Williams got Lock’s simple flick of a pass over Blair and ran 24 yards to set up Brandon McManus’ second field goal of the half.

Late in the game Blair, who got ejected from three Pac-12 games in two years in college, got called for a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness foul because he separated Denver’s Williams from an arriving pass with a hard shoulder hit. Williams was a defenseless receiver, yes, but it’s hard to see what Blair was to do on the play; let him catch it?

“I mean, we are going full speed out there,” Blair said, a verbal shrug.

“It’s whatever they (the officials) see.”

Carroll and his coaching staff will not downgrade the rookie for that play. In all, Blair played as Seattle hoped he would in his debut: aggressively, with sure tackles. A strong beginning.

“You can see that he’s a ball player,” Carroll said, acknowledging Blair was “scrambling a little bit” switching between strong and free safety. “We loved what we saw from him tonight. We also learned a lot about him. ...He has a lot to catch up on. But he showed you that he’s a hitter. He’s aggressive and tough. We can work with that now. It was exciting to see the plays he made....

“They’re going to have to look out for him. He’s a heck of a player.”

Smith played behind a starting offensive line that was without three regulars. As expected, second-year man Jamarco Jones started at left tackle for Duane Brown. Marcus Martin played at right guard instead of starter D.J. Fluker. Ethan Pocic was the left guard for injured starter Mike Iupati, whose missed the last week with a sprained foot.

Two of Smith’s three completions went for first downs on third and long. The first was to running back Rashaad Penny on a screen pass and run. The second was to rookie seventh-round pick John Ursua from the slot into the middle of the field open in a soft Broncos zone coverage. Smith scrambled once for 13 yards and a first down.

The offense got one field goal, five first downs and 93 total yards in 23 plays over the four drives Smith led it in the first half.

As for Seattle’s rushing offense that led the NFL last season: Like Wilson, lead rusher Chris Carson never got on the field after pregame warmups. Penny had 15 yards on 6 carries behind the mostly fill-in line, which had only center Justin Britt and right tackle Germain Ifedi as the starters who played Thursday.

Lynch entered with other reserves for both teams to begin the second half, and then went after his former Broncos.

On his first drive, the 6-foot-7 quarterback continued his trend from training-camp practices of being really inaccurate throwing when he has to move his feet. He rolled right away from pressure and spiked a pass into the turf yards in front of a receiver.

But then Lynch shined. He completed seven of his next eight throws. His 6-yard pass to Ferguson with 3 minutes left in the third quarter was the game’s first touchdown. It gave Seattle a 13-6 lead.

Lynch, who spent last season watching NFL games on his couch after Denver released him, celebrated his first NFL touchdown for someone other than the Broncos by slapping hands in the end zone with Blitz, the Seahawks’ man-in-a-bird-costume mascot.

The play was the third touchdown catch in five days for Ferguson, counting Saturday’s mock game. The 6-foot-5 Ferguson was a top recruit at LSU who failed out there and landed at lower-division Northwestern State in Louisiana. He is increasing his chances to fit in Carroll’s goal this season of bigger, faster receivers for Wilson to throw deep to more often.

Shead celebrated his return to the Seahawks after a year away playing for Detroit. The fans behind the south end zone roared for Shead when the safety jogged off the field at the end of pregame warmups. Shead thanked them by blowing kisses at them and pressing both hands against his face mask.

Then late in the third quarter Shead broke free on at least the third safety blitz called by coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Thursday. Seattle needs creativity in pressuring quarterbacks behind an iffy front four. Shead stormed in on Lock for a sack in the end zone for a safety.

The fans, and Shead’s teammates, roared for him again.

Lynch made it 22-6 Seattle when he scrambled, spun off a shoulder hit by Denver cornerback Trey Johnson at the 1-yard line, then reached his long arm across the goal line with the ball for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Denver added a touchdown and two-point conversion with 3:14 left, to end the drive after the debatable flag on Blair.

The Seahawks’ starting defense had Cassius Marsh and Quinton Jefferson at ends, Jamie Meder and Earl Mitchell at tackles, Austin Calitro (for recuperating Bobby Wagner in the middle), Mychal Kendricks and rookie third-round pick Cody Barton as linebackers, Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers the cornerbacks, as usual, and Luani at strong safety with Tedric Thompson the free safety.

Marsh had tackles on two of Denver’s first three offensive plays, both on runs. He was wearing “Marsh Sr.” on the back of his game jersey; his fiancee birthed his baby boy, Cassius Jr., in April.

Kendricks, facing a sentencing hearing for insider trading now reportedly rescheduled for Sept. 25, was the last defensive starter to leave the game, in the middle of the second quarter. Shaquem Griffin replaced him at outside linebacker.

“This is a really fun night to get started for us,” Carroll said.

“It was such a huge night of opportunity for so many young guys. ...This is the first time we’ve tackled full speed, live, and that’s what we save the games for.

“There’s no question that our guys were going after it.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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