On Sunday, in the first quarter of the Washington Football Team’s 23-20 loss to the New York Giants, Smith was the one standing in a trance at the 30-yard line as emotions rushed over him, while starting quarterback Kyle Allen was carted off the same way after the same type of play near the same spot on FedEx Field.
“You snap in and get your helmet, getting ready to roll, and then all of a sudden you see them bring out the air cast and the cart,” Smith recalled. “And I know that routine well.”
The eerie silence that cast over the stadium and the some 3,000 fans in attendance has sadly become a familiar one for Washington (2-6), especially around this time of year. Watching from afar, Joe Theismann, whose career ended with a leg injury 35 years ago, tweeted, “November is a lousy month for Washington QBs.”
Also familiar was the sight of Washington losing a game within reach because of its own mistakes — its late start, its turnovers, its defensive miscues, its close-but-not-close-enough rally.
“Just kind of what happened the last time we played these guys,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “Turnovers.”
Smith led a second-half comeback that gave Washington a chance to tie the game or take the lead late, but it only fell short in the end. Because of turnovers.
Washington committed five of them Sunday, including two in the final three minutes, spoiling an otherwise impressive outing by Smith in his second game back from his injury.
Smith completed 24 of 32 passes for 325 yards and led Washington on all four of its scoring drives, but two of his three interceptions were in the fourth quarter to seal the loss.
“As I told the players, we’ll learn from this,” Washington Coach Ron Rivera said. “First, we’ll learn you can’t spot teams 20 points in a half and expect to give yourself a fair chance to win. But the way that they came back and played in the second half was indicative of who this football team can be, in my opinion.”
The mistakes started on Washington’s very first play, when rookie running back Antonio Gibson lost control of a catch and the ball rolled upfield more than 20 yards, in and out of the grasp of both teams before landing in the arms of New York safety Jabrill Peppers.
As in some recent losses, Washington’s mistakes snowballed until the team began to undo some of the damage. The defense gave up a 50-yard completion that helped set up the Giants’ first field goal, Isaiah Wright muffed a punt minutes later that led to New York’s first touchdown, and just as Washington seemed to gain offensive momentum and pierced the red zone for the first time, it committed three offensive penalties and settled for a field goal.
During that drive, which started in the first quarter and spilled into the second, Allen was injured on a sack by Peppers, who barreled into Allen as he scrambled, whipping his leg back as he fell to the ground. Team physicians were immediately called to the field and put Allen’s lower left leg in an air cast before lifting him onto the cart.
Although X-rays taken at the stadium offered a more encouraging diagnosis than originally anticipated — a dislocated ankle with a small fracture in the joint — an MRI exam and CT scan Monday should reveal the extent of the injury, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Allen’s ankle was stabilized and he was able to return home after the game, but it appears likely he’s headed for surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
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Just want to thank everyone for the overwhelming love and support today. This is the unfortunate part of the game we play, but there's no adversity you can't overcome!! I promise I'll be back stronger, and better because of it ✊🏼✊🏼 Loved every second of my first year in Washington, I can't wait for more!
Peppers was penalized for roughing the passer, but Rivera defended the play afterward. Peppers said he intended no harm and apologized to Allen.
Smith took over, and Dustin Hopkins capped the drive with a 48-yard field goal. But the Giants tacked on 10 more points before the break by exploiting Washington’s defense with big plays, such as Daniel Jones’s 21-yard completion to Sterling Shepard that set up another field goal in the second quarter and the back-to-back 19- and 11-yard runs by Alfred Morris that set up a 16-yard touchdown catch by tight end Evan Engram minutes later.
Washington allowed a season-high 166 yards on the ground to New York, with Morris (67 yards) and Wayne Gallman (68) splitting the load.
Linebacker Jon Bostic said the Giants did “some different things inside the run game” but added: “We’ve seen these types of runs before. Some of it was just guys were trying to do a little bit too much.”
The mood and momentum shifted in the second half, when Smith, hoping for a much different half than the one he endured against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5, quickly began to narrow New York’s lead. In Washington’s first drive out of the break, he connected with wide receiver Cam Sims for a 45-yard completion, found J.D. McKissic for a first-down completion and handed the ball off to Gibson for a one-yard touchdown run.
Washington’s defense, which entered the game as the league’s best against the pass, held to its plan of pressuring Jones incessantly and did enough to keep the game within grasp. Jones was sacked five times, including once by Tim Settle on a second and long at Washington’s 32-yard line in the third quarter. New York settled for a field goal two plays later to take a 23-10 lead.
Smith, meanwhile, continued to build on his connection with Sims, finding him for a 33-yard completion en route to a fourth-quarter field goal before going deep again, this time to Washington’s lead receiver.
McLaurin, a second-year wideout who was voted a team captain last week, turned Smith’s pass up the middle into a 68-yard touchdown after breaking through a couple of tackles and speeding past a pair of Giants defenders for a touchdown. McLaurin and Sims both had more than 100 yards — 115 and 110, respectively — in the loss.
The touchdown — Smith’s first since his injury — pulled Washington within three points of New York’s lead with more than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth.
“It always feels good to throw a touchdown,” Smith said. “It had been a really long time. I didn’t do much on that one. Terry obviously helped me out and made an amazing play.”
But any enjoyment ended there. Smith — with a chance to put Washington at least in field goal range — was intercepted on a third and 10 at the New York 40-yard line. Washington’s defense gave its offense one more chance after a third-down sack by rookie safety Kam Curl on a blitz. But again the opportunity was spoiled by a turnover; Smith was intercepted a third and final time, deep in his team’s own territory.
“We had a chance without those two,” he said. “The second one is the one that really hurts, you know? I felt like we were rolling, moving the ball and really had them on their heels. … The last one, two minute, you are trying to make a play. I just felt like I was late. … I obviously feel I’m better than that and certainly capable of making that play. You can’t throw it late over the middle. That’s quarterbacking 101.”
Still, Rivera said he came away pleased by Smith’s play. With Allen out, the veteran will start next week at the Detroit Lions, and Dwayne Haskins, the first-round pick who was demoted to third string, will be elevated to backup.
Where that leaves Washington, a team both rebuilding and fighting for the NFC East crown, is unknown.
“We’ve got a few more games going forward that we’ve got to play in and see exactly who we are as this thing unfolds,” Rivera said. “The nice thing about it is … the division is still up for grabs. We’ll see what happens.”