Alex Smith playing on Oct. 14, 2018 Credit: All-Pro Reels

Sunday afternoon didn’t quite match up with what Alex Smith envisioned in those moments he allowed himself to believe that he’d be back at FedExField, playing in an actual NFL game. He didn’t think he’d be coming off the bench in his first game as the backup quarterback nearly two years after his horrific leg injury.

Nor did he imagine the downpour of rain that showered Landover—conditions he called a “quarterback’s worst nightmare.”

But none of that mattered when Smith ultimately accomplished his goal on Sunday in front of his wife and their three children, who were allowed in the stadium for the first time this season. In his darkest moments, a day like Oct. 11, 2020 could not have been further away. Forget playing football. Smith and his doctors fought to save his leg and his life. On Nov. 18, 2018, Smith left FedExField with a shattered right leg, and the ensuing infections threatened his life. Now, here he was, tasked to lead the Washington Football Team after starting quarterback Kyle Allen went down with an arm injury.

“It was great to be out there,” Smith told reporters after Washington lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 30-10. “I’ve worked the feeling, the range of motions, the good and the bad, is why I’ve fought so hard to come back. I think sometimes you can take it for granted and certainly being away from it for a couple of years, I’ve missed it.”

For the first time this season, Dwayne Haskins Jr. was not behind center for Washington after Ron Rivera benched him for his lackluster play. He wasn’t even at FedExField on Sunday after experiencing symptoms for a stomach virus and was told by the team doctor to stay home.

His replacement, Kyle Allen, scored on a six-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter and completed 9 of 13 passes for 74 yards before a hit from the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey in the second quarter sent him to the locker room. Allen was cleared to play but Rivera told reporters after the game that he kept him out due to “an abundance of caution,” adding that Allen will be the starting quarterback moving forward if he’s healthy.

As for Smith, Rivera praised his preparation to even have the chance to play again and acknowledged the significance of his return to the game. Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 110 yards.

“I realized the gravity of it, but at the same time I realized he’s a football player who’s been waiting for his opportunity,” Rivera said after the game. “He got his opportunity, and he did a good job. I was very pleased with what I saw. Again, he was put in a very difficult position. I thought he handled himself very well.”

Almost immediately upon entering the game, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald greeted Smith with a sack, in which he jumped on top of Smith’s back. The crowd at FedExField and those watching on TV collectively held their breath each time Smith went down.

Smith had looked forward to that feeling.

“It was hard this year with no preseason,” he said. “We wear the jerseys in practice, so you don’t get touched much. The first one felt good. It was nice to know you are fine going out there. It was nice to knock the cobwebs off so to speak.”

In post-game video press conferences, teammates talked about their excitement for Smith and their appreciation for him and the comeback that at times felt impossible.

“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a lot of days when I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Smith said. “You just keep pushing through. I always felt like when I had my darkest moments there was always something around the corner that happened that I just kept plugging along, then all of a sudden I made a big gain or a big step or something clicked and I just kept marching.”

Photo by All-Pro Reels on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.