There have been times in the Washington Redskins’ history when they would consider what happened to them Sunday, consider what they are facing Thursday and think, “We’ve got them right where we want them.”
In those times, the coach would rally the players, players would rally around their new quarterback and everyone would somehow manage to turn what seems an impossible situation into an improbable — to everyone else — run of success.
The Redskins now face the questions: Do they have such a coach, have such players and are they up to the challenge of playing their fiercest rival, the Dallas Cowboys, four days after a difficult loss and a devastating, season-ending injury to their starting quarterback?
“Any time you lose a game like this, you’re not going to rest easy,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “And when you lose a quarterback, a player like Alex Smith, it’s not going to make you rest easy. But I’m sure once we get to work on Monday and the pit in our stomach is gone, we’re looking forward to our next game. We’re excited about it.”
The Redskins lost a winnable game to Houston on Sunday, 23-21. Just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Smith not only threw two interceptions, a rarity for him, one was returned 101 yards for a touchdown. And in the second half, on a third-and-9 play at the Houston 24, Smith was sacked. As he went down, his right leg bent and crumpled under the weight of the Texans defenders. He suffered a broken tibia and fibula.
On one play, the Redskins lost their starting quarterback, who had led them to a 6-3 record, 14 yards and the chance for a field goal.
In the NFL, there is empathy from the opponent — Texans players left the bench to wish Smith well as he left the field on the back of a golf cart — but no sympathy.
There is no time for sorrow on the sidelines. The game continues.
Colt McCoy took over for Smith. On McCoy’s second snap, he threw a perfectly placed pass to tight end Jordan Reed in the left corner of the end zone for a 9-yard TD.
The Redskins’ hopes were alive, and McCoy was back.
McCoy has been here before. He’s in his ninth season in the NFL, his fifth in Washington. His last meaningful playing time came in 2014 when he started four games, winning one, a Monday night contest in Dallas.
McCoy has been battered physically and beaten down mentally in the NFL. He started for bad teams in Cleveland during his first and second years in the league. He came to Washington in Gruden’s first year and was given a chance when first Robert Griffin III and then Kirk Cousins faltered. McCoy had the starting job for the rest of that season until a neck injury, and perhaps the fact that Griffin was the second player taken in the 2012 draft sent McCoy back to the bench.
“I’ve been a starter before, had it taken away and it’s not a good feeling,” McCoy said. “I kind of battled my way back. I’ve been here for a while now so, hopefully, I can play good ball and help our team win. We have a good team, and they’ve gotten us in great shape, Alex has gotten us in great shape.
“You pray for opportunities to get to play. You never like to see how it happened today. I’ll check on Alex tonight. My thoughts are with him and Liz [Smith’s wife] and the family. Now, we’ve got to move forward. I know my responsibility, and know I’ll get ready to play.”
His teammates do not doubt that.
McCoy gets no time with the first team during the week. Instead, he runs the scout team, consults with Smith on what will work and otherwise prepares for days such as Sunday and all that comes after Sunday.
“We see Colt every day and see how much passion he has,” Reed said. “If he makes a bad throw, he’s hot [mad], even though he’s just running the scout team. He prepares like he’s going to play every week. He knows the offense like the back of his hand. He knows where the ball is supposed to go. He can make throws.”
McCoy also has great patience. If you’re on an NFL roster, you want to play, and it eats at you when you don’t or think the opportunity has been pulled from you.
McCoy, 32, doesn’t enjoy disappointment, but he’s used to it.
“I’m more mature,” McCoy said. “I’ve known my role for the past several years — help our defense get better, help our starter, be a leader, be an encourager, do the things I can behind the scenes to be successful.
“This league is all about opportunities.”
On Thursday, and in weeks to come, we find out if the Redskins have the coach, quarterback and players to prove they have their opponents right where they want them.