- - Sunday, November 18, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LANDOVER — If there was going to be a storybook moment for Washington Redskins backup quarterback Colt McCoy in 2018, it wasn’t going to be Sunday against the Houston Texans at FedEx Field.

It wasn’t going to come on the same day on the same field where 34-year-old Redskins starter Alex Smith saw his season and perhaps his career crushed when Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson and defensive end J.J. Watt sacked Smith halfway through the third quarter and broke the quarterback’s tibia and fibula in his lower right leg.

It was a gruesome sight — coming, ironically, 33 years to the day that a similar injury at RFK Stadium ended the career of Redskins Super Bowl quarterback Joe Theismann, who was at the game Sunday for the team’s Alumni Day festivities — and Smith was carted off the field immediately and taken to a local hospital, where he would undergo surgery.

The devastating injury would have overshadowed any miracle comeback by McCoy, who came into the game with Washington (6-4) down 17-7 and, after a Redskins interception by Preston Smith put the ball on the Houston 13, quickly threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed to cut the lead to 17-14.

He would lead the Redskins back to a 21-20 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 10-play, 67-yard drive ending with an Adrian Peterson seven-yard touchdown run. But the Texans would get the ball back and took a 23-21 lead on a 54-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal, and a last minute drive by McCoy with no timeouts left failed, ending with a 63-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal attempt that fell short.

No fairytale ending for the Redskins and McCoy.

Not at FedEx Field on one of many Sunday early afternoon NFL games before a home crowd of 61,000 that had to be begged by Redskins players to show up. Not in a game where the only thing on the line was cutting Washington’s two-game NFC East lead in half. Not with a Thanksgiving Day game and a national audience waiting in the wings.

That’s the better story, right? Thanksgiving Day in Texas — the place where McCoy became a college football legend at the University of Texas from 2006 to 2009, the place where he led the Redskins to one of their most memorable wins over the Dallas Cowboys four years ago.

You want passion? That’s passion, baby.

It’s now McCoy’s team, for better or worse, with Smith out for, at the very least, this season and perhaps next year and beyond. And, truth be told, things might have been heading in that direction, injury or not. Redskins coach Jay Gruden had gone along with the party line of winning ugly, with a 6-3 record in spite of the play of the quarterback, not because of it. But after two first-half interceptions gave Houston a 10-point lead, Gruden had words with Smith as he came off the field.

“I just wanted to make sure he was OK,” Gruden told reporters after the game. “We had a couple of issues with the play getting in. I thought I got it in way early and we weren’t getting it in and he wasn’t hearing me, what have you. I was just making sure he was OK and his mind was OK … it’s unlike him based on his history, but I did want to make sure he was OK and in the right frame of mind to lead us back to a win.”

The coach wanted to do that because at no time so far this season with $94 million Alex Smith at quarterback and falling behind in a game had the Redskins come back to win. Not once. And now Smith was being asked to do just that — win the game for Washington.

It may have been too much to ask.

Smith had thrown the ball 27 times in two-and-a-half quarters — a lot of attempts by that point in the game (he had thrown the ball just 27 times in their 16-3 win over Tampa the week before — and completed just 12 passes. He was desperately trying to move the ball with his legs, with four runs for 33 yards. But the more he was asked to do, the more he became a target for the Houston pass rush, and finally, with Jackson blitzing, along with Watt, a future Hall of Fame pass rusher, they converged on Smith for Houston’s third sack — this one horribly breaking Smith’s leg in two places.

Enter the 32-year-old McCoy, who hasn’t thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2015 and hasn’t started since four games in 2014 — including his memorable Monday Night 20-17 overtime win over a favored Cowboys team in Dallas. He came up short this time Sunday against Houston — completing six of 12 passes for 54 yards and running the ball five times for 35 yards — but McCoy showed enough to believe that Dallas could be a special place again.

Asked about going back home again to Texas again to face the Cowboys, the eight-year veteran said, “I’ll probably just calm down this week. Really focus on my job and probably have a lot of family and friends there. But at the end of the day, it’s football. I’m excited to play. Again, I hate the circumstances but at the same time, we have a really good football team and I’m excited to go out there and play with them.”

Gruden’s excited, too — probably a little more than he would let on. McCoy and Gruden have been together since the coach was hired in 2014. No one probably knows Gruden’s system better — or what the coach wants from his quarterback. He was absolutely giddy when McCoy hit Reed for the touchdown two plays after he took over.

I doubt Gruden will ever have to ask McCoy if he is in the right frame of mind.

“We don’t have to change anything,” Gruden said about his offense moving forward under McCoy. I think he and Alex have very similar skillsets, so offense won’t change. That’s a good thing. Tuesday’s game plan will continue to do what we’ve been doing and build off the things we’ve done well and trash the things we that we didn’t do well and just move forward. But I think he (McCoy) has the skillset that fits perfect to what we want to do.”

Here is the part of the skillset that likely pleases Gruden the most. “I know how Jay sees his offense,” McCoy said. “I know how Jay wants this offense run.”

They are connected, in a way that Gruden and Alex Smith were not — and, now, may never be.

You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.


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