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Thank You, Alex Smith

This week’s Thursday explanation is swept aside to wish a good player and great comeback story the best of luck.

Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

I get it. Alex Smith didn’t put up All-Pro stats. He didn’t put up Pro Bowl stats most days. Hell, you could argue his stat lines from more than a few Sundays were extremely forgettable. I would grant you that these wouldn’t go in the “opinion” bucket—these seem like cold, hard facts. This post isn’t about me building a case to erect a statue of Alex Smith or to gloss over the fact that when he got on the field in 2020, he didn’t set the quarterbacking world on fire. No...I’ll save my turd-polishing skills for next September. Instead, I’ll suggest that from a high enough perch, it is easy to appreciate what Alex Smith did for our team—or better yet, to appreciate Alex Smith.

First, here’s more facts, with Smith posting a similar back-of-the-sports-card line as Haskins did in 2020:

  • Haskins: 148-241, 1439 yds, 5 TD, 7 INT, 61.4 cmp%, 31 QBR
  • Smith: 168-252, 1582 yds, 6 TD, 8 INT, 66.7 cmp%, 34.8 QBR,

Yet, the Washington Football Team was 5-1 in Smith’s six starts and 1-5 when Haskins started. To say this is unexplainable underestimates our capacity to not just find reasons that explain such things, but also to fight to the death arguing that our reasoning is correct. I mean, come on, it’s 2020...it’s what we do.

Strength of schedule played...who was healthy when we played them...WFT defensive play at any given time of the season...special teams blunders...offensive line woes...the magic of Disney (if you know, you know). This probably gets us 1% of the way there in terms of what folks would argue about Haskins and Smith and the disparity of their win/loss record despite being extremely statistically similar.

This is when I like to point out that when Smith took over the team, Rivera had little to no choice in the matter, even though I have painted it as a gutsy, cerebral call by the head coach. It wasn’t like Alex was taking over the “Greatest Show on Turf” when he was asked to be the starter. Hardly...the WFT was 2-6 when Smith made his first start of the season against the Detroit Lions in early November. We were promptly 2-7 after Matthew Stafford led Detroit to a 30-27 victory. Something changed when the team became “led” by Alex Smith, and it has to be because of more than merely a stat line.

You recall that this was the year Terry McLaurin found his voice. It was the year Chase Young came in and demonstrated dominance on the field and leadership in the locker room (the special kind of leadership that only comes when everyone knows how dominant you are as a player). It was truly the first year of a full-fledged rebuilding process, as young players got chances all over the field thanks to the front office politely declining to sign available veterans to the active roster (the practice squad invite to Eric Reid was telling). You want true chaos? How about a second-year first-round quarterback that was showing signs of “not ever getting it?” How about a head coach who couldn’t stand an entire four quarters because he was in the middle of a chemotherapy regimen? How about an NFL investigation into the owner amid allegations of sexual misconduct? How about one of our highest-paid defensive leaders and talents going down with a season-ending injury (Landon Collins)? I mean, come on...this season was a trainwreck out of the gate, y’all. TRAINWRECK...and we all kind of absorbed it like Muhammad Ali leaning on the ropes taking punches and letting his opponent get tired, because we knew that what Ron Rivera was doing had a chance to work. A chance...

Amidst all of this, the NFC East sucked out loud. The playoffs—yes, playoffs—were well within reach of a completely discombobulated 2-5 team, which is the dumbest thing I’ve heard since they announced that Washington made Adam Archuleta the highest paid safety (ever...I spent some time coming up with lines I could have used there...the cutting room floor is covered.) By the time Rivera got to Alex Smith, the Washington Football Team was looking to steady a rickety boat.

So yeah, I understand you don’t get statues made of you for taking over rickety boats. It’s not like Alex Smith went in the locker room and gave the “Look at me...I’m the captain now” speech. Still, keeping a sinking boat from finding the bottom of the sea is admirable, and it is among the things for which I am grateful to Alex Smith.

The NFL is an injury league. Dudes get hurt...on the regular. More than almost anything else, a man’s ability to wake up on Sunday morning and shake off some pain to line up with his teammates on an NFL field defines these players. We see injuries cost men weeks, months, and even full seasons, and yet so many of them work tirelessly to find their way back to the field. Despite the egregious nature of Alex Smith’s injury, and the life-or-death aspect of complications that stemmed from that injury, and the against-all-odds storyline (thank you Disney) of his comeback, that never-say-die trait exists in players all over the league. I don’t want to take anything away from other players, but the manner in which Alex Smith journeyed back to the game of football and onto the field wearing the burgundy and gold is something for which I am eternally grateful to Alex Smith.

I have had the good fortune of watching my team play in and win multiple Super Bowls. They are distant memories, but they will live forever. Another distant memory before this season? Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers—before this season, we hadn’t done it since 1991, which means many readers on Hogs Haven had NEVER seen it happen. On a day which will live in infamy (in Pittsburgh), an 11-0 Steelers team got out-physical’ed by OUR 4-7 Washington squad. Improbable wins come in all shapes and sizes, and most fanbases are fortunate to experience the sweet taste of an upset win at some point. The game was won that night by so many players not named Alex Smith, but seeing a titanium-rodded Alex Smith laying on his back after getting run over by two Steeler defenders in the backfield as a ball zipped into the end zone and into the waiting arms of Logan Thomas to all but seal a win—IN PITTSBURGH—is something for which I am so grateful to Alex Smith.

I watched my team suit up and start Mark Sanchez in a late-season game that actually meant something. I don’t have a lot here, except to say, the way in which Alex Smith isn’t Mark Sanchez is something for which I am grateful to Alex Smith.

The road to Canton is not paved with 162-yard, two-interception performances from under center. (We can probably file this one under “fact” as well.) In Week 17, with an actual playoff spot on the line, a questionable Alex Smith was cleared the morning of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The game would go on to redefine the word “ugly.” Missing nearly half of its starting lineup, Philly’s defense stymied the WFT all night long. Smith seemed to age by the second, beginning the game as a spry, one-legged, 36-year-old veteran that almost died from a broken leg and ending the game looking like the main character from Lucas (also named Lucas) had snuck into the game...at the age of 36...and also after having almost died from previous in-game injuries. Did I mention this game was ugly? It slowly devolved into a battle of who wanted to lose more, with Doug Pederson finally yanking his second-stringers and sending in the water boy to play quarterback.

I digress...

Remember...we’re in a perch here...looking down...from way, way up...

When the dust settled, and the football gods emerged from their huddle, having decided that yes, they were going to send an NFC East team to the playoffs—against their better judgement—both the Washington Football Team, AND ALEX SMITH, were still standing. We don’t give out participation medals in this column, and we don’t celebrate mediocrity, but the manner in which this man took his last snaps for my team—in a game that required a weird combination of grit and survival that mirrored Smith’s own road back to the field—which resulted in a division title and playoff berth, is something for which I am grateful to Alex Smith.

I am excited about the road ahead for the Washington Football Team now that they have resolved the Alex Smith matter. I would certainly suggest it is the outcome I was hoping for, and the one that benefits the burgundy and gold the most. That said, I wish Alex Smith the best as he continues his career, and I wish him and his family the best in their lives ahead. We’ve seen all kinds of quarterbacking here in DC over the couple decades, and even when it has been decent, it didn’t always lead to wins. For some strange, perhaps unexplainable reason, Alex Smith’s brand of quarterbacking in 2020—where professionalism somehow made up for the lack of flash and mobility—got us WINS.

For all of this and likely more, thank you Alex Smith.