Washington will be without its starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Alex Smith had to be carted from the field in a Week 11 game against the Texans after taking a sack that resulted in two broken bones in his lower leg.
Shortly after the game, Washington head coach Jay Gruden told reporters Smith suffered compound fractures to his tibia and fibula that will require surgery. Smith underwent surgery soon after suffering the devastating injury. Weeks later, he was having complications from multiple surgeries:
#Redskins QB Alex Smith is battling an infection related to the surgery he had on his broken fibula and tibia, sources say. It’s premature to say what this means for his playing future. But it is being handled with care and dealt with seriously by doctors.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 6, 2018
On Dec. 15, Smith was released from the hospital and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported there was still “some optimism” that Smith could play football again.
Cameras captured the incident in full detail, but the close-up image is pretty graphic. Here’s a zoomed-out look at the play that caused the injury. You can see the more gruesome close-up image here.
Prayers up for Alex Smith's leg. Yeesh. pic.twitter.com/jfj9RsexIz— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 18, 2018
It was an ignominious end to a rough day for the veteran quarterback. Smith had been intercepted twice on the day, with one of those picks being returned 101 yards by safety Justin Reid to give Houston a 17-7 advantage in the third quarter. He was trying to will Washington back into contention when he suffered his brutal hit.
McCoy came on in relief to find Jordan Reed in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass moments later that cut the Texans’ lead to 17-14.
The Texans held on to win the game, 23-21.
An eerie coincidence
Washington lost another quarterback to a brutal broken leg on the same day 33 years ago. Like Smith’s injury, Joe Theismann’s broken leg was caught on camera, with the bone sticking out and everything, for all the world to see. Theismann, who was at the game, quickly noted the similarities.
Alex’s leg is exactly like mine 33 yrs ago— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) November 18, 2018
“It was just an eerie moment,” Theismann said after the game. “It was surreal. You see him go down in a pile and then there’s a shot that showed his leg bent and I turned away right after that. I feel so bad for him.”
That wasn’t even the only coincidence. The final score of Washington’s game 33 years ago was also 23-21. Smith and Theismann both broke their legs on the 40-yard line. In addition:
Some strange similarities between Alex Smith's injury and Joe Thiesmann's 33 years earlier:— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) November 19, 2018
>Same date: Nov. 18
>Same score: 23-21
>Same yards/att: 5.0
>Injured leg: Right
>Injuries: Broken tibia, fibula
>Injured on 3rd sack of game
**Romeo Crennel on sideline for both games
It was Hall of Fame pass rusher Lawrence Taylor who’s tackle resulted in Theismann’s injury. Future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson sacked Smith on the play where he was injured.
That injury ended Theismann’s career.
“The memory is vivid,” Theismann told ESPN. “It’s like all of the senses, all of the people, all of the memories, everything that happened in that instance all comes back to me. ... If there is a positive aspect, it’s that so much of medicine has changed.”
What’s next for Alex Smith?
Smith faces a long process of recovery.
“Just breaks your heart because this is what he loves to do, loves to lead this team, loves to be with the guys, and now the season is over and he has a long way back. It’s just hard to watch that happen to any athlete,” coach Jay Gruden said after the game.
Smith signed a four-year, $94 million deal with Washington this spring. For now, the team is outwardly hopeful that Smith will recover at return to the playing field at some point in the future. Whether or not he’ll be able to play in 2019 is still up in the air, especially after he struggled with infections related to his surgery.
Washington asked for privacy during that time.
“On behalf of Alex Smith, we appreciate all of the concerns and prayers over the injury he incurred on November 18th against the Houston Texans. Although this is a serious injury, Alex and his family remain strong. We would ask that everyone please honor the Smith family’s request for privacy at this time,” a team statement read.
Now that Smith has been released from the hospital, his recovery can begin. It’s unclear what this means for Smith’s playing career — and that should not be the focus right now. But there is hope, even if it’s not a guarantee, that Smith can play again.
What does this mean for Washington?
Washington ran to the top of the NFC East behind a surprising 6-3 start to its 2018. Smith’s steady play was a big part of that. Rather than allow the team to wallow in the loss of former quarterback Kirk Cousins, Smith allowed little lapse in service thanks to his low-risk passing in the pocket. While he’d gained just 6.6 yards per attempt — his lowest figure since 2013 — he’d also thrown only five interceptions in 328 passes before his injury.
With Smith’s season ending, Colt McCoy took over as the starter. McCoy had only thrown 11 regular season passes from 2015 until Week 11. He’s pretty much the epitome of a replacement quarterback with a career passer rating of 78.9.
Washington also brought in Mark Sanchez to back up McCoy. In Week 13, McCoy then suffered a season-ending leg injury of his own, pressing Sanchez into duty for the rest of the season. The team, which had no other quarterbacks on the roster, then signed Josh Johnson a day later. Sanchez struggled badly in Week 14 and was benched for Johnson, who will get the start in Week 15.
Washington is now 6-7.