Sunday, November 15, 2020

Washington Football lost 30-27 to the Detroit Lions, but boy, wasn’t it fun watching Alex Smith throw the ball 55 times?

After all, no one expected Smith to ever step on a football field again after his devastating broken leg two years ago, let alone actually play an NFL down. He played a heck of a lot of downs Sunday — Washington ran 83 plays — an unheard of amount for a normal quarterback, let alone a 36-year-old passer coming back from a life-threatening injury two years before.

It was inspiring to watch Smith come back from a 17-3 halftime lead for Detroit to lead Washington to a 27-27 tie with seconds left to play in Detroit. Yes, they wound up losing on a last-second field goal, but wasn’t Alex Smith marvelous? I mean, he completed 38 passes for 390 yards. Yes, he failed to connect on any touchdown passes. But he didn’t throw any interceptions, either.

“It’s a heck of a story, to be honest with you,” Washington head coach Ron Rivera told reporters after the game. “I’m pleased with the way he’s played.”

See? It’s a heck of a story.

And how could you not be pleased with the way he’s played? I mean, after all, what did you expect?

I believe that the Lions, for the most part, were pleased with the way Smith played as well, just as the Giants were the week before in New York’s 23-20 victory. Maybe a little too pleased, as the Lions defense nearly handed Smith a comeback win with two defensive penalties on Washington’s final drive that allowed them to tie the game 27-27 on a Dustin Hopkins field goal.

But it was clear that the Detroit coaches, like the New York coaches, after their team led going into the locker room, had little faith that Smith’s check down game could score enough points in the time available to win. The pressure both of these defenses put on Smith in the first half of those games gave way to letting Smith compile his numbers in front of them, counting on a turnover or mistake along the way.

Smith has rarely been capable of the kind of explosive offense to come from behind, even before the broken leg two years ago.

This time, the mistake happened on the defensive side of the ball, when top draft pick Chase Young finally got to the quarterback with the game tied 27-27, winding up with a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty for his shot on Matthew Stafford (three touchdown passes, one for 55 yards), which put the Lions in position for the game-winning 59-year field goal by Matt Prater as time expired.

As long as Washington jumps in an early grave in their games, the opposing defenses will let Smith pile up his second half numbers, which, as Rivera said, makes for a great story, but doesn’t add up to wins. Washington is now 2-7, and, more importantly, 1-2 in the part of the schedule that Rivera declared winnable earlier this season. The Washington offense under Smith just can’t outscore most teams — particularly when they fall behind early. They’ve been outscored 148 to 72 in the first half through nine games this season.

That record is obviously not all on Smith, who was making his first start after coming in for an injured Kyle Allen in the first quarter last week against New York. But this is a marriage of a limited offense and a limited quarterback.

With Allen out for the season with an ankle injury, Rivera has little choice but to put his faith in Smith. Owner Dan Snyder’s top draft pick from 2019, Dwayne Haskins, was buried in street clothes until the Allen injury forced Rivera to promote Haskins to the backup. But behind the scenes, it is clear that Haskins is a disaster, with questions still about his work ethic and commitment.

Last week — nine weeks into the season — the coach was still talking about Haskins’ issues. Asked what Smith could teach Haskins, Rivera said, “It’s really about how to prepare, how to take what you’re getting — the information that you’re getting — how to disseminate it and then how to transfer it onto the field. How to do those things. Again, my example of coming in early, meeting with the coaches, meeting with the two other quarterbacks, having discussions, talking about what you’re seeing and what you’re not seeing. Just studying and preparing.”

We are still talking about showing up early, even after Haskins was benched and lost his starting job? How hard is it to be the first one in the building?

No one will ever accuse Alex Smith of not showing up early, not studying or preparing. So if you are going to lose, who would you rather lose with — Alex Smith the hero or Dwayne Haskins, the owner’s privileged pal?

After all, like the coach said, it’s a heck of a story.

Hear Thom Loverro Wednesday afternoons on 106.7 The Fan and Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Kevin Sheehan Show Podcast.

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