- - Sunday, September 23, 2018

LANDOVER — Somewhere inside the bowels of FedEx Field Sunday, Redskins president and general manager Bruce Allen was probably smiling. No, make that cackling.

His exacta ticket had come in.

It couldn’t have been easy for the Prince of Darkness to watch as the organization brought in one know-it-all suit after another to take over his duties. But for one glorious Sunday, none of that mattered — not the empty seats, nor the new ideas about begging fans to buy tickets and being, horror, transparent about the business.

For once, on Sunday, Allen was winning on the field.

First, there was his prize offseason acquisition, quarterback Alex Smith, leading the Redskins to an impressive 31-17 win over the visiting and favored Green Bay Packers before a rain-soaked crowd of half Redskins fans and half Packers fans.

And make no mistake about it, Smith led this team.

AUDIO: Redskins great Joe Theismann with Thom Loverro

He only threw for 220 yards, completing 12 of 20 passes. But he engineered two first-quarter drives and would keep the Green Bay defense on its heels with his legs, including a six-yard run late in the quarter on a third down and 5 play that would eventually result in a Washington score and a 14-0 lead.

With Smith in control, the Redskins went to halftime with a 28-10 lead and managed to not give the game away in a lackluster second half. Smith’s sneak on third down with about three minutes left in the game kept a Washington drive alive and resulted in a 35-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. More importantly, it kept the ball out of the hands of Smith’s friend and rival quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, ending the hopes of Green Bay fans hoping to watch another of his trademarked miracle comebacks.

But that was just half of the exacta.

The other winner for Allen was the performance of the quarterback he let walk away from Redskins Park, the one who signed a record three-year, guaranteed $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. That quarterback, Kirk Cousins, had an embarrassing three-turnover day while throwing the ball 55 times for just 296 yards and one touchdown, in his 27-6 loss to the woeful Buffalo Bills.

Yes, Sunday was a good day to be Bruce Allen.

It was also a much-needed good day for Redskins fans, who were in desperate need of one after watching their team lay down in a 21-9 loss last week at home to the Indianapolis Colts.

That game prompted a week of stories and debate about how far the franchise had fallen after just 57,000 fans turned out to see the Redskins’s opener — leaving more than 20,000 seats empty.

There were perhaps just as many empty seats at FedEx Field Sunday, and enough Packers fans to often drown out those hearty Redskins fans who came to watch, but those who came were treated to a first half of excellent Redskins football — as good as we’ve seen for quite some time.

Smith had a lot to do with that, but Adrian Peterson also ran for 120 yards and the pass receiving corps of Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis all had big catches.

It all revolves, without fanfare or drama, around Smith.

Cousins may be gone, but his ghost remains, and the comparisons of the two quarterbacks will continue all season, to either validate or ridicule Allen’s move.

On Sunday, Allen was validated.

Cousins and Smith are different quarterbacks with different styles at different points in their career. But the one part of the game that the 34-year-old Smith brings to the field that is clearly a difference is his ability to extend plays with his legs. It was an ability Cousins seemingly had, but too often failed to use.

Gruden places a high value on it. “You can’t put a price tag on it,” he said. “It’s critical. On third down when they open up the lanes, the quarterback has to utilize his legs from time to time. He had two of those, huge ones, in the first half, kept those drives alive, and instead of three points on both of those, we got seven.”

Ironically, it is what makes Smith’s friend on the other side, Rodgers, so special. But Rodgers was clearly hampered by the left knee sprain he is still dealing with, and was limited in his mobility.

Smith is not as slick or stylish as Rodgers with his legs, but that ability is a source of salvation for a Redskins offense that will likely be inconsistent.

“You never know what is going to happen when those opportunities are going to present themselves and you want to capitalize on them when you do,” Smith said. “It’s kind of hidden yardage.

“There’s things I either see out there on the field when I took up after I pass or something on the sidelines when we are looking at the cut ups,” he said. “Maybe you have an opportunity here if it does present itself and then a lot of time you’re just playing ball and things are happening fast. All of a sudden you’re in the open field running. Not a lot of conscious thinking.”

Typically, “not a lot of conscious thinking” is a destructive Redskins trait. But not with this quarterback on the wet FedEx Field Sunday. Like a thoroughbred crossing the finish line, Smith was Allen’s winning ticket.

You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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