- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Washington Football Team’s dream of an NFC East title may have taken a hit Sunday with their 23-20 loss to the divisional rival New York Giants.

It was a reasonable-enough dream, as dreams go — a five-or-six-win division championship and a playoff game in Ron Rivera’s first year as coach.

Instead, it looks as if Washington Football fans will have to be satisfied with watching the Hallmark movie-in-the-making, “The Alex Smith Story.” The $94 million quarterback who suffered a horrific broken leg two years ago is back under center (though he did throw three interceptions Sunday).

Take a seat. Hollywood pays money for these kind of stories. Well, maybe not the three interceptions part.

These are the dreams and nightmares of the Washington Football fan, which are often difficult to separate. A division title for what would have likely been the worst record for such a crown in NFL history. A comeback for a 36-year-old quarterback who has not led a Washington team to a comeback win now in 12 games in uniform.

It’s always 2020 at Ghost Town Field.

The Giants (2-7) had one win coming into this game — their 20-19 win over Washington two weeks ago. With the bye week that followed, Washington (2-6) had two weeks to prepare for the same opponent — the Giants, who were playing on short rest following their 22-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night.

Yet it looked as if Washington was playing on two hours rest and the Giants had a season to get ready.

The Giants took a 20-3 lead as Kyle Allen went down when New York safety Jabrill Peppers blitzed and leg-whipped Washington’s starting quarterback in the first quarter. Allen was carted off the field, reportedly suffering a dislocated left ankle with a small fracture. His season is over.

With owner Dan Snyder’s No. 1 draft pick quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, demoted to street clothes, Smith, who had been victimized in his last appearance a month ago when he came in to replace an injured Allen in a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams (9 of 17 passing for 37 yards, six sacks), came in Sunday with Washington down 10-0.

At first it looked like a repeat dismal performance was in the offing.

Instead, the Alex Smith Rivera has raved about in practice came out in the second half to give Washington a chance to win by closing the score to 23-20, putting together a far more impressive performance, completing 24 of 32 for 325 yards and his first touchdown pass in 721 days.

The Hollywood ending fell flat, though, as Smith gave the comeback away with two late interceptions.

“The first half I was pessimistic, disappointed,” Rivera said. “The second half we only gave up three points. We scored points. We gave ourselves a chance.

“I told the players we’ll learn from this,” Rivera said. “You can’t spot a team 20 points and expect to give yourself a fair chance to win.”

Up next are the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford, followed by the Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Burrows — difficult challenges to match for a Smith-led offense.

But that is the plan. Rivera told reporters he was pleased with what he saw from Smith, and that he’s now the starter.

“We’re going to continue to go forward with the setup the way it is,” Rivera said. “Alex will start and Dwayne will be the backup.”

Those interceptions?

“It’s unfortunate with the interceptions,” Rivera said. “He tried to make things happen and force things and bad things happened.”

Bad things usually happen when Smith tries to force things and make things happen. It is why in the 6-3 record he led Washington to in 2018, the team led from the start in all six games and were behind in all three losses. They were losing against Houston in that 10th game of the season when Smith suffered his gruesome broken leg that nearly cost him his life.

Yes, bad things happened.

At least Rivera didn’t promote practice squad quarterback Steven Montez to be the backup. Give it time, though. Nobody has lasted very long behind center for this team since Kirk Cousins left.

Only Washington Football could have such drama at quarterback with a two-win team. I mean, Rex Grossman and John Beck was a spectacle, but in 2020 we have the comeback movie of the week, Smith, combined with the implosion of the year in Haskins, the 2019 top pick.

You have to admit, it’s a compelling 2-6 story. Get your popcorn.

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

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

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