It had been 742 days since the last time Alex Smith felt the on-field exuberance of an NFL victory. The counting clock can finally restart.
The Washington Football Team's 20-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday marked Smith's first victory as a starting quarterback since Week 10, 2018, the weekend before the brutal leg injury that threatened to end his career.
"Another step, another thing I never thought I'd be doing again," Smith said, via ESPN. "It's one thing to come out and get that first playing time and a whole other deal to play winning football as a starter. It's amazing to get a win."
With each week, Smith looks closer to the player he was before the devastating injury. Sunday, he wasn't asked to do much other than shepherd the offense that ran all over the Bengals after Joe Burrow left with his own leg injury. The past two weeks as a starter, Smith has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 278.0 yards per game, with a touchdown, an interception and an 87.3 passer rating.
They aren't mind-blowing stats, but given where he started and how much more functional the Washington offense looks with him under center, it's reason to celebrate.
"When a guy like Alex who has gone through what he has gets this opportunity to get back on the field and play well, that's pretty cool," Washington head coach Ron Rivera said.
In a striking coincidence, Sunday's victory came in the same throwback jersey Washington was wearing when Smith suffered the leg injury days before Thanksgiving in 2018.
"The last time I wore them I got them cut off me in the ambulance," Smith said. "It's fun to be where I am now. The week before Thanksgiving and the same uniforms, I'm grateful to be here today."
The Washington victory over Cincinnati, coupled with a Dallas Cowboys win against Minnesota, sets up a Thanksgiving afternoon battle for the lead in the NFC East.
For the presumptive Comeback Player of the Year, Smith will appreciate what it's like to earn a W a few more moments before turning his attention to Dallas.
"You just take a moment when you do to certainly appreciate everything about where we are, certainly as a family how lucky we are," Smith said. "I'm grateful for so many things. Certainly, to be in this position again I didn't think was ever possible for a long time. It is a good reminder to look around at how lucky you are, how lucky I am."
Rivera turned away from Dwayne Haskins, first to Kyle Allen, then Smith, with eyes on winning the NFC East. With Smith providing stable QB play, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson proving to be dynamic playmakers on offense, and a defensive front that can dominate a game, Washington has a chance to prove its coach prescient by taking the division lead Thursday.