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WFT Daily: A Proven Winner

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Quarterback Alex Smith attempts a pass during the Washington Football Team's game against the New York Giants on Nov. 8, 2020. (Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team)

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. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.

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With a record of 2-6, the Washington Football Team has to win at least half of its final eight games to have a realistic shot at winning the historically bad NFC East. Fortunately, it'll have a proven winner under center in quarterback Alex Smith.

Since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2005, Smith has a career record of 94-66-1 as the starter. His regular season winning percentage (.587) is eighth among active NFL quarterbacks with at least 50 starts, according to The Football Database, and he has had even more success since 2010, the last year in which he had a losing record. Smith is 75-35-1 (.676) during that stretch and has made the playoffs five times.

"We have the ball in a veteran guy's hands, a guy that I saw who was working out very, very hard and was trying to come back," head coach Ron Rivera said about Smith. "Everything that I had seen in terms of the reports that I was getting from the doctors were positive, that this is a guy who has a chance. Given who he is and the way he came back, it doesn't surprise me to a degree that he's got an opportunity and he earned an opportunity. We'll see how it goes."

A lot has changed since Smith made his last start 729 days ago. He endured a gruesome leg injury and subsequent infections, which turned a already strenuous recovery into a life-threatening one. Hardly anyone outside of Smith's inner circle thought he would play again, let alone get back to how he was playing before his injury.

But in place of the injured Kyle Allen on Sunday, Smith had a better completion percentage (75%) and threw for more yards (325) than he did in any game since being traded to Washington in 2018. He also completed four passes that went for at least 30 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin that brought the team within 23-20.

That last statistic is perhaps the most encouraging, because Washington has struggled to attack defenses downfield in the passing game. It entered Sunday with just 16 passing plays of 15 yards or more, according to Sharp Football; against the Giants, Washington had five.

"I think Alex is very comfortable," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. "In the second half, we mixed a couple of runs early, but really we were throwing the ball, and Alex was doing a great job finding completions and guys were getting some yards after the catch. ...Those [big plays] add up, and it was good, it got us back in the game. We weren't able to finish the deal, but I think Alex does have a good comfort level in the offense."

Smith threw three interceptions Sunday -- two of which came in the final minutes with Washington trying to come back -- but history suggests he will take supreme care of the ball going forward. He has not thrown more than eight interceptions in a season since 2010, and in 2018, he only committed four turnovers in the first nine games. His clean play helped Washington start the season 6-3 and occupy first place in the NFC East standings.

That's when Smith suffered his unforgettable injury, changing the course of his life and the direction of the franchise. But nearly two years later, Washington and Smith find themselves together again with a playoff berth still within reach.

"It is a very different place, certainly, but at the same time, there's still a lot the same," Smith said when asked about comparing then to now. That feeling I was just talking about is very much the same -- getting ready to go out there and trying to find a way to win."

The Washington Football team held practice at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Nov. 11, 2020. (Photos courtesy of Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

QUICK HITS

-- Bryce Love returns to practice: Bryce Love has yet to make his NFL debut, but there is a chance that could happen soon. The 2019 fourth-round pick returned to practice Wednesday, meaning Washington has 21 days to either add him to the active roster or keep him on Injured Reserve, which is where he's been since Oct. 2. Love was placed on IR because of knee swelling stemming from a torn ACL at Stanford in 2018.

"You see the quickness is still there," Rivera said. "It was good to see him out on the practice field running around. You saw his quickness; you saw his burst. He showed some good hands out of the backfield as well. It was good to see him out there."

-- Quarterback Steven Montez has been "fun to watch": With Allen (ankle) out indefinitely, Washington's third quarterback is Steven Montez, an undrafted rookie who has spent the entire season on the practice squad. Rivera described Montez as an athletic, intelligent signal-caller with "the ability to make all the throws." Montez has to learn to put more touch on his passes, Rivera said, but he likes Montez's physical tools and mental approach to the game. He's also been following around Allen and Smith, and Rivera believes their knowledge and experience is starting to rub off on him.

"He's got a 90 mile-an-hour fast ball and an 89 mile-an-hour fast ball. There's not a lot of difference in the way that he throws the ball, and he's got to learn how to do that to help him. He's very smart, bright. He spends the time studying and doing the things that you want young quarterbacks to do in terms of developing good habits.

-- Kendall Fuller is having a Pro Bowl type season: Kendall Fuller's return to Washington has included interceptions, pass breakups and not many completions allowed. In fact, Fuller has the lowest passer rating allowed by cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He also ranks second in the NFL with four interceptions despite missing two games because of injury.

"It helps us out a lot," cornerback Ronald Darby said about having Fuller in the secondary. "He's a real smart player, works hard during the week, studying -- there's a reason why he's ranked the way he is."

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