Playing with a little extra emotion after learning earlier in the day that his cousin had passed from cancer, rookie linebacker Preston Smith tallied three sacks in a victory.
Before taking down Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford on three different occasions Saturday evening in the Washington Redskins' division-clinching 38-24 victory, rookie linebacker Preston Smith received news that his cousin passed away after a long battle with cancer earlier in the day.
Check out images of the Washington Redskins celebrating their 2015 Week 16 victory -- and their NFC East title -- over the Philadelphia Eagles Dec. 26, 2015, at Lincoln Financial Field.
"She lost her battle to cancer, and I believe this game she was looking over me," said Smith, who received a text that she had passed away around 5 a.m. "She died this morning to cancer, and I prayed and I asked her to look over me and be with me and the team today and win this game."
Smith said that the two hadn't seen in each other much over the years, but when he was selected by the Redskins in the second round of the NFL Draft this year, they were able to meet once again, as she lived in Gainesville, Va.
"Last time I probably saw her I was little, but I met her this year," Smith said. "Once I started talking to her, we became close 'cause, you know, changing from college to NFL it's a lot that comes on your plate and she was understanding. You know, her situation she had a different view of life. So when I was talking to her, I felt like I lost a good friend today."
Smith's cousin didn't have a chance to attend any games at FedExField this season, but she continually cheered him on from home.
"She hadn't gotten a chance because she [was] always doing chemo and stuff," Smith said. "So she would watch the game at home with my uncle. Her husband always comes when he gets the chance."
While Smith started the season still learning the ropes in the NFL, the second-round pick out of Mississippi State has come on strong in recent weeks, as he now has four sacks in the last two weeks.
Saturday was the first time he'd gotten three sacks at any point – high school and college included – during his football career.
"I had two, but this is the first time I got over that hump and got three," Smith said with a smile while wearing an "NFC East Champions" hat.
Smith's season total of seven sacks is more than some of his first round classmates in the 2015 NFL Draft.
"You've just got to keep a positive mind-set no matter how things may roll," Smith said. "You've got to be ready to play when the ball is in your court. You know, I stayed focused. Guys stayed around me, it's a long season, so week in week out nothing's going your way, and you've just got to keep grinding and working. You know, it's going to be like a game today. I didn't know I was going out there and get three sacks. I just came out there rushed and kept rushing and [sacks] were falling in my lap. I just kept on playing hard and I keep on progressing each week seeing what I need to fix each week and go off that."