Unsurprisingly, the Washington Football Team closed out Week 10 with a 30-27 loss to the Detroit Lions in what was a winnable game. Now 2-7, the NFC East title looks increasingly less attainable for Washington, which consistently fails to win winnable games and to capitalize on the weaknesses of the rest of the teams in the NFC East.
Washington immediately found itself in another rough situation with the team having a strong opening drive but digging itself a hole directly afterward, setting itself up for a first half that seemed unrecoverable. As it has been the past few weeks, Washington’s defense was also lacking, unable to effectively stop Detroit’s offense. Washington left the first half with a 17-3 deficit and low expectations for the rest of the game.
Though the first half was a bit messy, the second half was far from terrible for Washington. As we have seen from the team several times this season, Washington showed up later in the game and executed a comeback that looked like it was going to bring them a victory for the first time since Week 8. Despite his age and past injuries, 36-year-old quarterback Alex Smith’s performance energized Washington’s players and fans almost enough to secure the win.
In his first start in 728 days, Smith delivered. He seemed to learn from last week’s mistakes and had no turnovers on Sunday, avoiding bad plays and executing consistent, well-thought-out passes. In addition to showing progress from last week and effectively eliminating unforced errors, Smith demonstrated strong decision making, good field vision and resilience throughout the game. Smith, a former Pro Bowler, set two career highs with 390 passing yards and 38 completions, which is shocking considering how poorly he performed last week.
Smith’s reentry to football and Washington’s starting lineup after a broken leg that almost cost him his career has been impressive; he might very well be the holy grail Washington so desperately needs this season to propel the team to the playoffs. Coach Ron Rivera was optimistic after Smith’s performance on Sunday, speaking to the significance of the quarterback’s new place in the team dynamic.
Rivera stated that Smith makes young players like Cam Sims, Isaiah Wright, J.D. McKissic and Steven Sims Jr better each day, “pulling them through the slogs of the team’s poor early starts to fantastic second halves.” Despite a less-than-perfect first half, Smith was electric in the second half, leading three touchdown drives that helped Washington overcome a 17-3 deficit.
Smith successfully pulled Washington into the lead late in the fourth quarter, but a field goal by Detroit tied the game shortly thereafter. With just six seconds left in the game and Detroit driving, star rookie defensive end Chase Young was flagged for roughing the passer, which gave Detroit a first down at midfield. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford marched down the field, setting kicker Matt Prater up for a 59-yard field goal, which he easily knocked through as the time expired. Young acknowledged his rookie mistake, which, coming right after Smith’s well-engineered comeback stretch, was horribly timed and cost Washington an otherwise winnable game.
The NFC East is a mess and still very much up for grabs, with losses from the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets this week. Still, Washington needs a crazy winning streak to pull off a division win and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Smith’s performance might signal a better future for Washington, however, especially if he can start games as strong as he ends them. All eyes will be on Smith in Washington’s Week 11 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Arianne Levine is a sophomore in the College. District Disappointments appears online every other week.