LANDOVER, Md. — Alex Smith is back where he was two years ago before his gruesome leg injury: starting at quarterback for Washington.
Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said Smith will start next week at Detroit with Dwayne Haskins elevated to the No. 2 position after starter Kyle Allen injured his left ankle Sunday. According to a source, Allen dislocated the ankle and suffered a small fracture in Washington’s 23-20 loss to the New York Giants. Rivera would only say after the game that Allen dislocated the ankle but needed to speak more with the trainers.
It will be Smith’s first start since Nov. 18, 2018, when he suffered a broken fibula and tibia in his right leg. That’s why he empathized with Allen on Sunday.
“A ton of emotions going on for me right then,” Smith said. “I knew Kyle was down and knew it was serious once he stayed down. You get ready to roll and all of a sudden you see them bringing out an air cast and the cart. I know that routine well. I’m trying to lock it in, but feeling for Kyle.”
But, he said, he’s not thinking about what it will mean to start again.
“I’m enjoying every single day and I’ve continued to progress and get better,” Smith said. “I’m thankful for that. It’s another step. I’m incredibly bummed for Kyle. … For me, I’m going full steam ahead. I’m not thinking about any other stuff. I’m going to run with this opportunity.”
Allen had taken over for Haskins in Week 5. With Allen out, Smith nearly led his team to a comeback win. Unfortunately for Smith and Washington, those chances died when he threw high to running back J.D. McKissic at the New York 44-yard line and the ball tipped off his hands and into the hands of Giants safety Jabrill Peppers late in the game. On the next possession, Smith threw his third pick of the game as New York clinched the victory.
After Allen was carted off the field following his injury in the first quarter, Smith completed 24 of 32 passes for 325 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions.
Washington fell to 2-6 and took a severe hit in its quest to be relevant in the NFC East race.
Washington trailed 10-0 when Allen was hurt, having dug a hole thanks to two first-quarter turnovers. Smith’s first two drives did not go well, though the first was stymied by three penalties inside the red zone.
But Smith was effective in relief. He completed 17 of his first 20 passes for a touchdown and an interception. The latter occurred when his receiver slipped and fell as the ball was being released with Washington at the Giants’ 18-yard line.
While Smith might not move as well as he had in the past, he was able to operate within the pocket and escape when necessary. On a third-and-2 late in the game, Smith spun out of the pocket and scrambled to his left and then, with pressure in his face, slid back to his right and connected with McKissic for a 5-yard gain. However, under pressure in the fourth, Smith scrambled back and his throw intended for McKissic was intercepted by Peppers. On the ensuing possession, Logan Ryan picked off a pass over the middle; Smith called it a failure in “Quarterbacking 101” by throwing late to that area.
“I was very pleased with [Smith’s performance],” Rivera said. “It was exciting to watch him get out there and do what he did. Unfortunately, with the interceptions, he tried to make things happen and unfortunately bad things happened.”
Smith also was aggressive throwing downfield — in part because it was available and also Washington trailed by 17 in the first half. In the fourth quarter, on a first down, Smith threw into a tight window for receiver Terry McLaurin, who collided with Giants corner Isaac Yiadom but bounced off and raced to the end zone for a 68-yard score.
It was Smith’s first touchdown pass since Nov. 11, 2018.
“It always feels good to throw a touchdown and it had been a really long time,” Smith said. “I didn’t do much on that one; Terry helped me out and made an amazing play.”
Smith also looked far more comfortable than in his first outing this season, in which he relieved an injured Allen in a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. In that game, played in a pouring rain, Smith completed 9 of 17 passes for 37 yards and was sacked six times.
“I wasn’t thinking about my foot; I wasn’t thinking about my leg,” Smith said. “I feel more comfortable and feeling better and better. No question I really felt good moving around and making things happen. I was playing faster.”
Washington’s defense didn’t help much, either, as it allowed New York to rush for 168 yards. But Smith’s three interceptions combined with two lost fumbles by Isaiah Wright and Antonio Gibson in the first quarter doomed Washington.
Allen’s injury occurred on Washington’s third possession of the game. Peppers blitzed on the first-down play from the Giants’ 31-yard line and leg-whipped Allen, hitting him in the left leg. Peppers was called for a 15-yard penalty on the play.
Allen was on the field for several minutes and had to be lifted off the ground, with his lower left leg in an air cast, and onto the cart. Teammates almost immediately gathered around Allen; one after another walked over to him before the cart arrived. He acknowledged the crowd as he left the field on the cart, raising his arm as they stood and applauded.
“I don’t think it’s a dirty play,” Rivera said. “It’s a guy trying to make a play. I’ve been in that situation. Peppers is a heck of a player; he plays 100 miles an hour.”
Peppers said there was no malicious intent.
“Everything happened so fast,” Peppers said. “I tried to just bull rush the running back, but he kind of got under me a little bit and I tried to like spin out of it. It was a weird kind of play. I didn’t intentionally try to leg whip him or whatever the penalty was. I was just trying to play hard and get him on the ground.”
Smith replaced Allen with Haskins inactive as the third quarterback. Smith was elevated to the No. 2 role for a Week 5 game vs. the Los Angeles Rams after Haskins was benched.
Allen was starting his fourth game in place of Haskins. In his first three starts, Allen completed 68.8% of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception. On Sunday, he had completed 5 of 7 passes for 62 yards before getting hurt.
“That hurt me because Kyle’s been a guy who came in and was just trying to be ready for his moment,” McLaurin said. “The last few weeks, he was helping us get into a rhythm.”
Jordan Raanan contributed to this report.