Longtime reserve quarterback Colt McCoy will try to replace Alex Smith as quarterback for the Redskins. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Sports Columnist

It seems insensitive to believe the Redskins can survive and even thrive without quarterback Alex Smith. But history shows they can.

Joe Theismann’s broken right tibia and fibula 33 years to the day before Smith suffered the same gruesome injury Sunday changed the Redskins for years.

Theismann never played again; reserve Jay Schroeder not only won four of five games at the end of the 1985 season, but became the team’s first 4,000-yard passer the next year — back when 3,000 yards was a big deal.

[Exactly 33 years since his own gruesome injury, Joe Theismann ‘just so upset’ for Alex Smith]

Schroeder also set the team up for a Super Bowl run when he went 8-2 during the ’87 season before an injury in the finale kept him out of the playoffs. Doug Williams regained the starting job he held earlier in the season and won the Super Bowl, leading to Schroeder’s trade.

The sad truth was that Theismann needed to be replaced. At 36, he was having his worst season as a starter with eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions, and the Redskins were 6-5. Coach Joe Gibbs refused to bench the quarterback who had recently led the Redskins to consecutive Super Bowls, but they were clearly better with Schroeder.

A similar pattern was playing out under Smith, 34. In his first season in Washington, he was struggling. Smith’s 85.7 passer rating was his worst since 2010. He threw two interceptions before he was injured Sunday against Houston, one for a 101-yard pick-six. Nothing seemed to click for Smith, who clearly didn’t trust his receivers to make plays.

Coach Jay Gruden, like Gibbs, was reluctant to bench a quarterback who was not far removed from success. Smith’s 104.7 rating last season with Kansas City was a career-best. The Redskins were hoping he would improve over time.

Now it’s Colt McCoy’s time to prove himself once more. Like Schroeder, McCoy made a quick impact, throwing a touchdown Sunday on his first pass since 2015. Five years in the Redskins’ system have made McCoy the expert on what Gruden wants, and McCoy quickly led another TD drive to take a 21-20 lead. Unfortunately, he couldn’t muster a third score in the 23-21 loss.

McCoy, 32, has an uneven history. The University of Texas passer was hurt in the Longhorns’ loss to Alabama in the 2010 national championship game, then struggled for four NFL seasons before becoming Washington’s third-stringer in 2014. After replacing an injured Kirk Cousins in Week 7, McCoy beat Dallas in overtime the next week, completing 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards. That’s why Gruden has kept McCoy despite there being cheaper alternatives.

He has long been Gruden’s insurance. Now the division-leading Redskins (6-4) face the Cowboys (5-5) on Thursday in Dallas with McCoy once again emerging from the shadows.

History says the Redskins can survive and even thrive with McCoy.

Read more from Rick Snider:

Redskins deserve a little more love from fans

Redskins: 5 things to watch for in the second half of the season

Redskins thrive by putting the emphasis on the linemen