The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera.
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As Alex Smith tried to avoid constant pressure amid steady rain Sunday, Rams head coach Sean McVay had mixed feelings.
"You almost wish for him as a football fan that it was in a little bit better conditions as far as being able to play where you can throw and catch a little bit more easily than what some of those elements entailed," McVay said after the Washington Football Team's 30-10 defeat. "Weird saying that when it was our defense that made it very difficult, so just impressed by him."
In this situation, McVay's rationale made sense. How could you not want Smith to succeed after what he endured in the 693 days since his life-threatening injury?
His miraculous comeback transcends wins and losses, rooting interests and sports in general. It's about unprecedented perseverance, resolute courage and a will as strong as the titanium rod in his right leg. In a split second, Smith had everything taken away from him. Over the past two years, he took it all back.
"Just knowing where he's come from and just how the hard work and just the sacrifice and work that he's put in to get back to this point, I'm just so happy that he's on an NFL roster and has the ability to play football again," said Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, who was Smith's quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in Washington in 2018.
"I know it's something that from day one after the injury he always wanted to do. Like I said, he's an inspiration to me and he always will be as a guy that I was able to coach and have a relationship with, and hopefully that lasts a long time."
Head coach Ron Rivera described Smith's comeback as a "hell of a story," and for at least the past few months, he knew it would end with Smith back on the football field. After activating Smith off the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list, Rivera saw the 36-year-old progress from 7-on-7 drills to 9-on-9 periods and then to team portions of practice without limitations. A few games into the season, Smith was splitting scout-team reps with Kyle Allen.
"The rust is really starting to come off the guy," Rivera said Sept. 25. "It's been really exciting, it really has."
When Rivera announced Smith as the backup quarterback for Washington's game against the Rams, it meant that Smith would suit up for the first time since his injury. Just seeing Smith in uniform during warmups, cornerback Kendall Fuller said, was "definitely special for all of us to see." A couple of hours later, Smith made history by replacing the injured Allen late in the second quarter.
"I have always said this, I have appreciated Alex from day one," running back J.D. McKissic said. "The injury he went through and the work he had to put in wasn't easy at all, but I'm not surprised. That's the guy that is going to put the work in. For him to come back in the game, 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."
By all accounts, Smith's playing career was over Nov. 18, 2018. No athlete had ever come back from an injury of that magnitude, and that was before complications resulted in 17 surgeries and a life-threatening recovery. In 14 seasons, Smith made three Pro Bowl appearances, played in seven playoff games and compiled a 94-65-1 record; you would be hard-pressed to find someone who thought those statistics would ever change.
That is, unless you talked to Smith, who always thought Sunday was possible, even on his worst days. During locker room cleanout after last season, Smith expressed his intentions to play in 2020. "Without a doubt," he told reporters. "I still have dreams of getting back to where I was and getting back out there. This has been, obviously, a crazy ride with a lot of unforeseen turns, but without a doubt that's still my goal."
About nine months later, Smith made good on what was thought to be an impossible aspiration.
"It really is amazing for him to get through what he went through and get back on the field," said Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who learned under Smith in 2017. "He's a special human being."
Check out photos of the Washington Football Team during its Week 5 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.(Photos courtesy of Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team and Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
-- Rivera provides injury update on Scherff: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams are allowed to activate players off Injured Reserve after a minimum of three weeks for this year only. That means that Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, who was placed on IR with a knee injury Sept. 22, is eligible to return for Washington's Week 6 game against the New York Giants.
Rivera did not provide a specific timetable for Scherff's return, but he sounded positive when discussing the health of the team's best offensive lineman.
"We'll see. I think he had a good couple of days last week. We'll see how he is today, tomorrow and Wednesday and we'll make a determination as we get into the week."
-- Uncertainty at free safety: Through four games, Troy Apke and Jon Bostic were the only players to play every defensive snap. That changed Sunday when Deshazor Everett replaced Apke for Washington's second defensive series.
Everett's initial stint was short-lived -- his pass interference on third down kept the Rams' second touchdown drive alive -- but he ended up playing almost one-third of the defensive snaps, by far his highest total of the season. Apke, by comparison, was on the field 69% of the time.
After the game, Rivera said the team is still trying to figure out who will be the free safety going forward. "I'll have to sit down and talk with the defensive coaches and see how they feel and the direction they want to go with that."
-- Rivera praises Allen despite limited action: Kyle Allen played less than a half of his Washington debut, but he did enough for Rivera to name him the starter for Week 6 -- as long as he's healthy enough. Allen finished 9-for-13 passing for 74 yards and a rushing touchdown.
"He stood tall in the pocket and delivered a really good throw through the middle for a conversion. That's what you're looking for. That's what you want. He did a good job with that. Again, to me, you could say the scramble for the touchdown because he saw man coverage, he saw the defenders had their backs turned, and he knew it was an opportunity to tuck the ball and run. That was a good decision on his part."
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