Watching Washington on offense in the second half of their 30-10 loss to the Rams felt a bit like watching a toreador try to survive in the ring with a bull. Alex Smith, after a horrific leg injury that led to 17 surgeries and fears of amputation, returned to NFL action for the first time in nearly two years following a helmet-to-helmet hit on new WFT starter Kyle Allen. Smith would stay on the field as the team’s quarterback through the final quarter, even after Allen got cleared to go back in.
Though it felt like every observer, even the game’s announcers, was trying to will Smith towards success, his actual on-field performance was not very good. In 32 minutes of play, Washington scored a mere three points, and Smith, with a very conservative game plan and a terrible offensive line, completed nine passes for a total of 37 yards.
That Smith could even try to scamper away from NFL defenders after getting his leg nearly destroyed qualifies as a medical miracle. And at least according to Aaron Donald, Smith’s body seems solid enough to endure the punishment that the Rams’ D-line dished out. But despite what Washington (a team in desperate need of good PR) perhaps wanted me to feel, there was a palpable sense of dread every time I watched Smith take a snap. The memory of Smith getting gruesomely sacked in 2018 intruded on my thoughts on each of the six (yes, six!) occasions when the Rams took him down, and it’s not like things were much better on plays where the threat of contact simply loomed around the corner. Every movement of Smith’s was imbued with danger, and Fox’s regular cuts that showed the nerves of his wife, Elizabeth, and his three kids only made the stakes higher.
There may be something slightly irrational to this concern for Smith, specifically, and not just all NFL players generally. Logically, what happened to Smith out of nowhere two years ago could befall any seemingly healthy quarterback this Sunday. But, without taking away from the impressiveness of what Smith’s accomplished, there’s a real disconnect between the reality of his struggle and how the league hopes you’ll think about it. NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson noted multiple times that he had goosebumps seeing Smith enter the game, and, with notes of excitement in his voice, he told viewers that some in his studio had tears in their eyes. I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but watch with a grimace. In order to feel good about Alex Smith’s return to football, you kind of have to forget that it was football that almost stole his leg in the first place.