Alex Smith returned to FedExField Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Rams and took a snap for the first time since a horrific leg injury he suffered on Nov. 18, 2018.
Smith, who went in for an injured Kyle Allen in the second quarter, completed a six-yard pass to J.D. McKissic on a 3rd-and-1 for his first play. He finished the quarter completing 5-of-6 passes for 35 yards. His final drive ended in a 48-yard field goal to make the score 20-10 at halftime.
"It was great to be out there," Smith said. "The feeling, the range of emotions -- the good and the bad -- is why I fought so hard to come back. I think sometimes you can take it for granted, and certainly being away from it for a couple of years, I've missed it. So good to be back in it rolling, and like I said, we'll look at the film and get better and keep moving forward."
Smith, who stayed in for the rest of the game, scrambled, dodged receivers and stepped into throws. He took hits from the Rams' defensive line, which sacked him six times. Smith said he had been waiting on experiencing his first hit in a live game for some time now, and it didn't appear to phase him as he got back on his feet and went back to the huddle for the next play.
"It was nice to knock the cob webs off, so to speak," he said.
Smith was announced as the Washington Football Team's backup quarterback once Allen was named the starter earlier this week. It was the culmination of Smith's two-year journey that included 17 surgeries and grueling rehab to learn how to walk again. Head coach Ron Rivera, who has seen Smith improve each week since training camp, said he was confident putting Smith in game situations.
"I've been impressed with it," Rivera said Thursday. "Again, knowing that he's been cleared to play and then watching him working, especially the last couple weeks, has been outstanding. I just have no trepidation having him come in and play if that's what happens."
Smith's progress in the past three months has been described as miraculous. He was cleared by his doctors prior to the start of training camp. That was followed by Washington placing him on the Physically Unable to Perform list so he could continue his rehab and get back into football shape.
Smith then started to get more action in camp each day, starting with throwing passes to receivers during 7-on-7 drills. That was followed by 9-on-9 drills with a live pass rush from defensive linemen. By the end of camp, he was participating in 11-on-11 drills.
Smith was then announced as one of three quarterbacks to make Washington's initial 53-man roster.
"He handled all the 11-on-11 drills for the backups and for the practice team stuff," Rivera said. "He got right into the middle of it. People were flying all over the place, and he just stood tall. That was probably the biggest hurdle for me personally that I wanted to see. Just watching him do that was kind of a cool deal because I'm fired up for what he can be."
Smith's teammates have seen the work he has put in to get to this point, and while McKissic has only been with the team since March, he has appreciated Smith's effort since Washington signed him.
"The injury he went through and the work he had to put in wasn't easy at all, but I'm not surprised," he said. "That's the guy that is going to put the work in. For him to come back...in a rainy game was amazing. And for me to be the guy to catch his first pass, I'm very excited and very appreciative for that guy."
Washington lost, 30-10, to the Rams as the offense struggled to put up yards in the second half, but Smith's return was a monumental moment that many believed would never happen. Smith admitted there were days where he agreed with them, but those brief periods of doubt were followed by progress in his recovery. And now that he's back, Smith intends to put value in every moment.
"Just the little things," Smith said. "Putting on a uniform, pregame warmups, running out of the tunnel, all those things [you] certainly take for granted. Being back, I wasn't going to do that this time."