Once quarterback Alex Smith went down, then stayed down, and replays showed the imagery that would later be confirmed by head coach Jay Gruden at the podium – that he suffered a broken leg and would be out for the year – the energy inside FedExField dissipated.
Four plays later, linebacker Preston Smith tipped, then intercepted, Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson’s pass, quickly reviving the fans, as quarterback Colt McCoy jogged out to the huddle and took the reins of the offense for the first time since the end of the 2015 season.
Two plays later, he tossed a perfect pass to tight end Jordan Reed into the corner of the end zone, beginning an efficient and nearly heroic performance in the midst of shock and sadness. The Redskins ultimately fell to the Texans Sunday afternoon, 23-21, but it wasn’t because of the change at quarterback.
“First off, my thoughts and prayers are with Alex,” McCoy said at the podium. “He’s an unbelievable guy, a true veteran, true pro. We spend so much time together and he’s played great this year, done a great job and we know we play a violent sport, you just never want to see that happen. So I wish we would’ve won that game.”
McCoy finished the game passing 6-of-12 for 54 yards and a touchdown, and rushing five times for 35 yards. After leading a second touchdown drive, capped off by an Adrian Peterson touchdown, the Redskins had one final opportunity to win with a field goal in the final minute, down all of their timeouts.
Starting at the Redskins’ own 35-yard line after the Texans missed a field goal to put them up by five, McCoy ran for 10 yards, spiked the ball, then connected with wide receiver Trey Quinn for 11 yards before spiking the ball again. On Houston’s 45-yard line, the offense then stalled on two incompletions. With eight seconds left, Dustin Hopkins missed a 63-yard attempt and the comeback hope ended.
“We were battling the time and if I could’ve made a couple more plays, we could get [Dustin Hopkins] a little closer kick,” McCoy said. “We’ll learn from it and move on.”
The midgame transition – from Smith’s injury to McCoy’s opportunity – is never an easy one, but the Redskins offense didn’t seem to take any regression with McCoy under center. That’s in large part to McCoy having been in head coach Jay Gruden’s system for the past five seasons, and always preparing to play throughout the week.
Before McCoy’s first offensive series, all Gruden told him was, “let’s go win a game, it’s your team now.” McCoy responded the best he could, making plays with his feet, picking up first downs and targeting a variety of receivers, only some of which had practiced with McCoy during the recent practice weeks.
“Colt’s always ready,” center Chase Roullier said. “Colt is the strongest competitor I think I’ve ever seen. He’s ready to go on any snap, he prepares like he’s a starter every single day. I have all the confidence in Colt going out there. As soon as he comes in, it’s just the next man up and we’re ready to go.”
“I see him just dropping dimes every time he throws the ball so, I have a lot of confidence in Colt and know that he’s going to do the right thing and make the right decisions out there,” right guard Tony Bergstrom said. “I always have a lot of confidence in him.”
In many ways, McCoy’s productivity leading the offense on the fly provided a confidence booster for a Redskins team that must quickly move their focus to Thursday in Dallas.
“I see how the guy prepares, he goes out there and works and he prepares as if he’s going to come in if something happens,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “Something did happen so that’s why he’s here, that’s why he got what he got and he’s here now, he’s taking to him, we’re all behind him fired up and ready to go. Okay, I can’t wait for come Thursday.”
Gruden said that, despite wishing the circumstances were different, he was very confident in McCoy moving forward as the starter, a role the Texas product hasn’t had since four years ago.
“This league is all about opportunity, and for me, I’ve known my role the past several years is to help our defense get better and to be prepared every week, help our starter, help our team, be a leader, be an encourager. Do the things that I can behind the scenes to be successful and I don’t think from my standpoint anything will change,” McCoy said. “I’ll just get to play now, and so I’ve got to get myself ready to go for Thanksgiving.”