Good things come to those who wait for them?
For Alex Smith, the wait was long, over two years, before his last win as an NFL starter. Washington Football’s 20-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals gave Smith a win as a starting quarterback for the first time in 742 days.
“It felt really good. Another step, another thing I never thought I’d be doing again,” Smith told the media after the win.
“It's one thing to obviously come out and then even to get playing time and a whole other deal playing football as a starter,” he added. “Felt like we had one last week get away from us, so it was amazing to get a win and it was by putting all the work in. That’s from doing what we do and so obviously a great, great team win today.”
Head coach Ron Rivera said the win was good, but seeing Smith do it made it more special.
“When a guy like Alex who has gone through what he has gets his opportunity to get back on the football field and play well, I think that’s pretty cool. I’m very happy for him and very happy for our football team,” he told the media after the win.
The numbers for Smith weren’t spectacular: 166 yards on 16-for-25 passing, that’s just a 6.6 yards per attempt average. That's good enough for an 83.1 rating and 34.6 QBR.
And playing good enough was good enough for Smith, who is surely the favorite to win comeback player of the year.
“I'm so thankful for the opportunity and I'm not looking past each and every single day, just trying to make the most of it,” he said after the game. “That really is my mentality and one opportunity today was to go out there and play. Enjoy this win a little bit but excited for this next opportunity coming up on the short week to play Dallas on Thanksgiving, obviously pretty special.”
Of course, for Rivera, the veteran’s performance was worthy of praise.
“Especially once we got the lead, it was about first downs and grinding it out and not having a mistake. That’s the big thing that we have to do is understand how to win a football game,” he said. "You’ve got to lead, you’ve got to be methodical, you can’t make mistakes and just grind it out.”
While Smith’s skills have become a bit less sharp with age and coming off the long injury layoff, but his veteran savvy is much appreciated.
“Having a vet at the quarterback position changes dramatically,” running back Antonio Gibson said. "He’s been there and done that, so there’s not too much pressure on him. He relaxes in the huddle, I feel like for me anyway.”
Wide receiver Steven Sims called it professional and added how inspirational it was to see Smith comeback from a terrible injury.
“Everything about him is professional. It’s everything you want in a quarterback,” Sims told the media after the game. “To see him come back from what he’s come back from, my journey is nothing. That guy fought for his life. All those things, he’s just an inspiration. His whole story is an inspiration. I go hard just when he’s back there. Regardless of who’s back there, I go hard. But it’s a different feeling when he’s back there.”
Terry McLaurin, who has become a leader in his second NFL season, mentioned Smith’s selflessness.
“One thing I could say about Alex is he never makes it about him,” he said. “He has every reason to kind of ‘Look at my comeback story, look what I've done,’ but he makes it about the team. He's always trying to figure out ways you can make it easier on us as receivers, make it easy on the whole offense, and play complementary football.
“One thing about Alex, you just can't quantify enough that just his experience playing. Even when we make good plays and make bad plays, he treats it the same. He tries to keep everybody even-keeled and focused on the task at hand.”
Of course, there was the matter of the throwback uniforms Washington wore Sunday: They were the same ones Smith wore on Nov. 18, 2018, when he suffered that gruesome injury.
“I'm such a big fan of these jerseys and have been and it was two years ago and, you know, the last time I wore them I got them cut off me in the ambulance. So, fun to be wearing them now obviously grateful for that, to be back out there playing and it was amazing and obviously to get a win,” Smith said. “But yeah, eerie and again the same week before Thanksgiving and same uni. Grateful to be here today.”