Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The NFL may be a 100 percent injury league, but certain injuries are far more devastating and memorable than others. Unfortunately, Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith suffered such an injury Sunday at FedEx Field against the Houston Texans.
Head coach Jay Gruden told reporters after the game Smith required immediate surgery after breaking his tibia and fibula. Despite the gruesome injury, Washington is far from done this season with the NFC East up for grabs.
As Smith laid on the ground, the entire viewing audience immediately flashed back to Joe Theismann suffering a similar injury 33 years ago to the day. Even Theismann seemed taken aback by the eerie occurrence.
Theismann’s career ended when his leg snapped under New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s body. The moment inspired a movement around the league, one that contributed to the basis for a New York Times best-selling book by Michael Lewis and an Academy Award-winning film.
But NFL coaches and players are creatures of habit. They have to live in the moment because their careers can be over at any second. Washington still has six games left to play.
“Now it becomes a situation where of course we’re playing for each other, but we’re also playing for Alex,” tight end Vernon Davis said, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s Michael Phillips. “Alex knows this is not the end. He’ll have a great number of opportunities to showcase his talent and help this team win in the future.”
Their season isn’t over because their offensive leader will no longer be under center. It’s just a little more difficult. Once the initial shock wore off, a realization came: Washington is still well situated to win its division.
What seems to be forgotten among the annals of history is Washington reeled off four victories in their final five games after Theismann’s injury and finished 10-6 overall with backup Jay Schroeder leading the way. This year’s group has the potential to do something similar.
The schedule is certainly in Washington’s favor. None of its final six opponents (including the Philadelphia Eagles twice) has a winning record. A tidy 20-30 record is counted among the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Eagles.
Even a depleted roster has a fighting chance against such a soft lineup, and Washington’s roster is definitely depleted at the moment.
Of course, Smith is a steadying hand, but Washington signed Colt McCoy to a one-year, $3.5 million extension this summer to become one of the league’s highest-paid backups. Money talks in the NFL, and the trust the coaching staff and locker room has in McCoy to step into this situation and lead the offense is significant.
“He broke it down, ‘You’re in good hands with me,'” cornerback Josh Norman said of McCoy taking the reins, per the team’s official site. “We’re all behind him fired up and ready to go.”
Unlike Schroeder, McCoy isn’t a fresh-faced first-time starter. The 32-year-old signal-caller has 25 career starts, although none came during the past three seasons behind former starting quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Mark Tenally/Associated Press/Associated Press
“I’m a big, firm believer in Colt McCoy to play football in the National Football League,” Gruden said, per The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “This an opportunity of a lifetime for him. I know he would like it in different circumstances, but things happen for a reason. It’s an opportunity for Colt, and I think he’ll take advantage of it.”
The nine-year veteran was ready for his moment: He led Washington to a 14-point comeback before ultimately falling 23-21 to the Texans. McCoy came into the game during the third quarter and immediately threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed on his first pass attempt. Washington took a 21-20 lead on their following drive. McCoy placed his team in a position to win, only to have it fall just short.
“We see Colt every day and see how much passion he has,” Reed said, per Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “If he makes a bad throw, he’s hot [mad], even though he’s just running the scout team. He prepares like he’s going to play every week. He knows the offense like the back of his hand. He knows where the ball is supposed to go. He can make throws.”
Gruden knows he’s placing the offense in the hands of someone who knows the system and will approach everything with a professional attitude.
“We don’t have to change anything,” Gruden said, per Phillips. “We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and build off the things we’ve done well, and trash the things we didn’t do well.
“I think he has the skill set that fits perfect to what we do.”
McCoy will get help along the way since Washington should get healthier in the coming weeks.
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press/Associated Press
The team had to overcome losing starting guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao to season-ending injuries two weeks ago, but the team’s best blocker, left tackle Trent Williams, could be back for the Thanksgiving Day contest against the Cowboys, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. His return could create a ripple effect through the starting offensive line if Gruden decides to move Ty Nsekhe to guard.
Also, Jamison Crowder isn’t expected to be out much longer after dealing with an ankle injury the last six weeks. His addition will provide a much-needed boost to the wide receiver corps with a full complement of targets—which will be a first this season after Trey Quinn returned to the lineup against the Texans.
Washington can continue to lean on running back Adrian Peterson. Although, expanded options in the passing game have the potential to open up the offense, even without Smith in the lineup.
Even if the offense doesn’t carry its weight, Gruden’s squad features a solid defense with a physical and sometimes dominant front that ranks top-10 overall in run defense. Defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne is powerful up the middle, as is defensive end Jonathan Allen. Fellow end Ryan Kerrigan remains an active and effective pass-rusher. Matthew Ioannidis is the wild card up front as a disruptive interior presence with the ability to collapse the pocket.
Cornerback Quinton Dunbar’s possible return later this season from a shin injury will create secondary depth. Even without him, the Texans only managed 181 passing yards.
A veteran quarterback surrounded by improving talent and a solid defense usually portend a positive outcome.
At 6-4 overall, Washington holds an edge over the rest of the NFC East with the potential to extend its current division lead despite Smith’s disheartening circumstances.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.