It’s a funny thing about fairy tales. Sometimes they’re so corny you can see the ending from a football field away, without binoculars. That was Alex Smith Sunday afternoon, as the clock motored
It’s a funny thing about fairy tales. Sometimes they’re so corny you can see the ending from a football field away, without binoculars. That was Alex Smith Sunday afternoon, as the clock motored toward 4 o’clock.
Smith has spent the last two years recuperating from one of the most gruesome, grotesque injuries we’ve ever seen in pro sports. Smith broke both the tibia and the fibula of his right leg Nov. 18, 2018, at FedEx Field against the Houston Texans. It was an injury so traumatic it made Joe Theismann’s break 35 years ago look like a bruised shin.
Somehow, he’d returned to Washington this year. Somehow, he’d played a portion of a game against the Rams a few weeks ago, and just by stepping on the field that day in Washington he’d completed one of the most inspiring stories of the year.
Now, somehow, he was about to finish off a miracle comeback against the Giants. The WFT had trailed 20-3. They’d been outplayed all day. Smith was only in the game because the Washington starter, Kyle Allen, suffered an ankle injury that looked only slightly less haunting and nauseating as Smith’s 10 days shy of two years ago.
“We know Alex Smith,” Giants coach Joe Judge would say later. “We know what he’s capable of.”
The Redskins had the ball. They had momentum. They had the fairy tale. And then a strange thing happened:
The fairy tale flipped.
And what emerged in its place was another one, this one tinted blue instead of burgundy, this one co-authored by Jabrill Peppers (whose inadvertent leg whip injured Allen and set up the Smith storybook) and Logan Ryan, culminating a week for Ryan that could have been its own Lifetime Network special.
“Winning is a mentality,” Ryan would say when this heart-thumping 23-20 win was in the books for good. “We played like winners there. It wasn’t perfect.”
It was perfect enough. First there was Peppers, with the Redskins sitting maybe 5 yards outside the range to try a game-tying field goal just before the two-minute warning. He’d picked off a bad Smith pass that ticked off the fingertips of J.D. McKissic, snuffing a drive that, to that moment, had been 10 plays and 49 yards of impending doom.
“It shouldn’t have been that close to begin with,” Peppers would say, shaking his head. “We had a lot of bonehead plays to put them in position.”
Peppers had also been blocked into Allen earlier in the game, and as he watched the WFT quarterback wheeled off the field he felt sick to his core.
“We all have a pact in this league,” Peppers said. “Guys come from different circumstances and you never want to see a guy go down like that. I prayed for him and apologized to him. You never want that to happen.”
But Smith got a mulligan when the Giants quickly went three-and-out. Honestly, the key moment of the game may have come with 2 minutes and 10 seconds left, the Giants facing third-and-6, Daniel Jones clobbered on his blind side by Washington’s Kamren Curl.
To Giants fans who’ve witnessed Jones’ two-year love/hate relationship with ball possession, the play must have felt like super-slo-mo, must have seemed like they were all conjoined in channeling Apollo Creed’s manager, Duke Evers at peak volume:
But Jones held onto the ball. The Giants punted. Smith got the ball back, his pen freshly refilled with enough ink to write a proper ending — or at least force overtime. On second-and-6 he looked shallow, then saw something a few yards farther upfield.
What he didn’t see was Ryan.
Ryan was there in one sense because Giants’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham installed a new look during the team’s Saturday walk-through. He was there in a more ethereal sense because Giants’ trainer Justin Maher had urged his wife to go to the hospital after suffering acute stomach pain. There, she had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy.
Logan played the game with Ashley’s name on his cleats and a desire to bring her back a ball. So he got a ball. He plucked Smith’s pass out of the air with 1:15 to go. Ballgame over.
Revised fairy tale complete.
“We were done coming up short,” Ryan said.
Not this time. Not this week. There were a lot of Giants who soaked in the reward of a second victory in nine games. Judge kept Golden Tate home, further punishment for his selfish behavior Monday night; in his place rookie Auston Mack caught four balls for 72 yards, improving his career totals to five and 73. Justice served by Judge.
“For us,” the coach said, “the whole message was this: finish.”
This time, they would do just that. With a feel-good ending to boot.