Alex Smith couldn’t miss Logan Thomas midway through the fourth quarter — but then again, the Washington Football Team quarterback hardly missed his tight end at all Monday night.
For the ninth catch toward the latter stages of the best game of his career, Thomas ran an out-and-up, found himself all alone and hauled in the game-tying touchdown. That 15-yard completion was the most standout link-up between he and Smith, but Thomas showed throughout the 23-17 victory that he could be Smith’s go-to target when needed.
Thomas caught nine passes for 98 yards and a score. The 29-year-old, still learning how to operate at the position after transitioning from the quarterback he played while at Virginia Tech, proved Monday his transition is all-but complete.
He can be the big-bodied pass catcher Washington needs, particularly with wide receiver Terry McLaurin blanketed in coverage for much of the night and running back Antonio Gibson suffering a toe injury early in the outing.
“Logan just continues to grow,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s fitting in our offense and just doing a terrific job.”
Throughout the early portions of the contest, Smith resorted to dump-off throws to evade pressure. Thomas was the main target for many of those, and his ability to produce yards after the catch was pivotal.
He nearly converted a third-and-long in the second quarter, juking one defender before extending for the first-down marker. The officials ruled him short, though, and the subsequent fourth-down try failed.
Later in the second quarter, Thomas came up big again. On a corner route, Smith laid in a ball between two defenders, and Thomas held on for a 30-yard completion. That set up Washington on the 1-yard line, enabling Peyton Barber to punch in a touchdown later in the possession.
Thomas began his transition to tight end with the Buffalo Bills in 2017, grabbing seven receptions. The next year, he managed 12 catches. With the Detroit Lions last season, Thomas improved further. Even with limited appearances, though, Rivera was convinced Thomas could produce for his team.
“When you go back and watch his tape, it was like, ‘Gosh, he sure doesn’t get a lot of opportunities, but when he gets opportunities he’s done well,’” Rivera said. “It’s good to see. To a degree I’m surprised, but also I’m not, because he has the skillset.”
Given the largest playing time of his career now that he’s in Washington, Thomas feels he’s growing in leaps and bounds.
“There’s nothing like getting the chance to be able to play,” Thomas said last week. “And for me, I feel like I grow every week, get a better understanding every week and thankful for every opportunity that I have.
“His influence has been exhibited throughout the season. He hauled in a touchdown reception — part of a four-catch, 37-yard day — in the team’s season-opening win against the Philadelphia Eagles. But Thomas’ impact has grown down the stretch, too, with at least three catches in six of his squad’s previous seven games.
On Thanksgiving, when Washington placed itself firmly in the hunt for an NFC East title with a win over the Dallas Cowboys, Thomas pulled in a touchdown grab. He found the end zone for the second straight game Monday night, helping Washington seal an upset win over the Steelers by snagging all nine of his targets.
“He’s got the size, the speed, the strength,” Rivera said. “He’s got great hands, and he knows the game.”