Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Exactly 33 years to the day after Washington quarterback Joe Theismann suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in sports history, Washington quarterback Alex Smith suffered a similar injury Sunday in a 21-23 loss to the Texans.
I’m not going to link to the video of the injury — you don’t want to see it. (If you really want to see it, just Google it). (But you don’t want to see it). Smith’s leg appeared to snap as he was sacked by J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson. He rolled over with his foot facing the wrong way and laid on the grass in clear pain after the hit. Smith was ultimately carted off the field with his leg immobilized. Theismann knew what he saw:
Alex’s leg is exactly like mine 33 yrs ago— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) November 18, 2018
And now Smith will need season-ending surgery:
Jay Gruden says Alex Smith broke his tibia and fibula and will need immediate surgery.— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) November 18, 2018
Now the division-leading Redskins are without their starting quarterback—one who they traded for during the offseason. Washington was already the surprise of the season; few thought they would be able to compete in a division with the defending champion Eagles and in a conference with powerhouse teams like the Rams and Saints. Now, with Smith out for the year, the natural question is the same one it has been all season: What do we make of this team?
In relief of Smith, longtime backup Colt McCoy played fine enough, completing six of 12 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. McCoy also scrambled five times for 35 yards and kept key drives alive late in the game. Washington ultimately lost to fall to 6-4 on the season, but this is when having an experienced backup is valuable: McCoy, who is playing his fourth season in D.C., knows coach Jay Gruden’s system as well as anyone, and may be good enough to keep the team afloat.
But while McCoy is one of the more prepared backups in the league, he’s certainly a downgrade from Smith. There’s a reason the team still decided to give up a third-round pick and promising defensive back Kendall Fuller for Smith this offseason. Washington also gave Smith a four-year, $94 million contract extension with $71 million guaranteed—clearly they were ready to commit massive resources at the position rather than hand the reins over to McCoy.
This Thursday, McCoy will make his first start since 2014. He has a career adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.02 and a career passer rating of 78.9 to go with 26 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. For comparison, Smith has a career ANY/A of 5.82, a career passer rating of 87.6, and 193 career touchdowns against 99 interceptions. Smith has been a mostly average QB for the vast majority of his career, but that’s significantly better than McCoy, who hasn’t been able to win a starting job.
Hell, there’s a chance that McCoy doesn’t even start long for Washington this year. McCoy and Smith were the only two QBs on the roster, and the team is already looking to bring in new guys:
With one healthy quarterback on the roster, the #Redskins are bringing in 4-5 free agent QBs, Jay Gruden said. “Hopefully they are on a plane right now,” he said.— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) November 18, 2018
The one thing going Washington’s way moving forward is that this team hasn’t been built around its quarterback. The Redskins have ridden a solid ground game led by Adrian Peterson and a surprisingly good defensive front to grind out six victories this season. The team came into Sunday ranking 25th in passing yards per game but 10th in rushing yards per game. Leaning on rushing offense limited what Smith needed to do, and that will surely help McCoy moving forward.
But will it be enough? Washington is now just one game ahead of the 5-5 Cowboys in the division, and will travel to Dallas to play on Thanksgiving Day in a game that will now determine who sits atop the NFC East. Washington has been decimated by other injuries this season already, with Chris Thompson, Jamison Crowder, Trent Williams, Samaje Perine, and others missing time. The team came into Sunday ranking 19th in DVOA—20th in offense and 21st in defense. Can the squad really weather even a slight downgrade at the game’s most important position?
Washington has defied the odds just to get to its current standing. To finish its playoff push, it will have to continue to knock over expectations.