ASHBURN — In August, when Alex Smith was cleared to play football again — real football, with pads, hits and tackles — for the first time in two years, the quarterback’s family celebrated with a football-themed cake featuring a blonde-haired figurine holding chopstick crutches.
Wednesday, though — the actual anniversary of the Nov. 18, 2018, game in which Smith suffered a life-threatening broken leg — came and went with little or no fanfare.
Smith said he took a moment to think about how far he’s come. Then he got back to work preparing for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Despite 17 surgeries that produced multiple hospital stints, the 36-year-old has worked his way back into a role as an NFL starter — one who’s coming off a career-high 390-yard game in a losing effort against Detroit.
Coach Ron Rivera said Smith’s performance was an indication that “he’s back,” operating at a high level. Smith said it was another “checked box” in his list of goals.
He said Wednesday he was appreciative of his health and his progress.
“It is a good reminder to look around at how lucky you are, how lucky I am,” Smith said.
If Smith’s last two games are any indication, he may be better than he was before the injury. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in two consecutive weeks for the first time in his career. On the field, he’s been decisive, his throws are crisp and he’s finding his receivers.
Smith said he spent his two years on the sidelines doing what he could to improve every aspect of his game.
This season, he’s appeared in three games and coincidentally, some of his former teammates and coaches have been standing on the other sideline. Against Detroit, there was Chase Daniel, his former backup in Kansas City. For games against New York and Los Angeles, there was Colt McCoy and Kevin O’Connell.
Smith said he made it a point to catch up with them — either in person or by text — to get their honest assessment.
“I’m trying to hear feedback, especially from people that were around me a lot pre-injury and what did they see,” Smith said.
As a team, Washington didn’t do anything to recognize Smith’s anniversary.
“That’s a scary thing to talk about,” Rivera said.
Instead, the team was focused on adapting to the NFL’s intensive protocols that they have to follow after defensive end Matt Ioannidis tested positive for the coronavirus. On Wednesday, Washington held meetings virtually and wore masks at practice — a policy that the NFL implemented league-wide later in the day due to a surge in cases.
But there have been plenty of others who have reached out to Smith and marveled at his progress. Smith said he’s humbled by the support that he’s received.
Even former President Barack Obama is among those rooting for the quarterback. After Smith played in his first game last month, Obama tweeted congratulations to “my friend Alex Smith” and wrote that the comeback was a testament to the quarterback’s strength and determination.
“Certainly, it’s tough to get any bigger than the former president,” Smith said.