Alex Smith's Washington Football Team was trailing by two scores and his leg was bleeding.
Not just bleeding, but gushing.
Smith had taken a cleat to his shin, causing blood to spew down his leg, drenching his sock and staining his ankle tape with the same type of discoloration that made a certain Boston Red Sox pitcher's postseason performance memorable. Like that pitcher, Smith made the most of the moment, overcoming the wound to lead his team to an unlikely victory and end the undefeated run of the league's last unbeaten team.
Smith finished with a passing line of 31-of-46 for 296 yards and a touchdown, with the majority of those yards coming in a furious second-half rally that saw Washington (5-7) put up 13 points in the final quarter to overcome what was once a 14-point deficit and stun the host Steelers (11-1), 23-17.
"I could visually see the blood pumping out, so it was a good one," Smith said afterward. "I was lucky to have it happen just before halftime. I've never had one gush like that."
The location of the laceration was important for Smith, who once nearly lost his life as a result of complications stemming from surgery required to repair a gruesome right leg fracture that forced him out of the sport for nearly two years and required 17 separate operations to save. Fortunately for him, the cut came on the opposite leg, allowing Smith to simply receive halftime attention to address the ailment before continuing his comeback efforts. Washington is fortunate, as Smith's presence helped spark the second-half rally that kept the Football Team in the thick of the NFC East race.
"I had to do a quick check to make sure it was my left leg versus my right, a little more concerned with my right leg," Smith explained further, via ESPN. "It was a new one for me, it was a bit of a gusher. Luckily, it was right before half so we were able to tape it up and then get in at halftime and take care of it. So, nothing serious, just hit the right spot and kept bleeding."
Injuries are nothing new to Smith, who has lived enough football lives to fill multiple careers. That experience proved valuable in a key sequence at the end of the first half, in which Smith exited the field with the normal game ball in his possession, creating an unintentional delay with officials, who were trying to locate the kicking ball in time for Dustin Hopkins to attempt a 49-yard field goal with the clock ticking toward triple zeroes.
The confusion gifted Washington a fourth timeout, and Hopkins drilled the kick to bring the score to 14-3. The points ended up being incredibly important in the eventual one-score finish.
"I wish I knew it was going to happen like that," Smith explained afterward. "For me, I was just trying to get the offensive football off the field. I knew the K ball would be coming in, I knew we were going hurry-up field goal. I was just trying to speed up the process by running our football off. I didn't know it would turn into what it did. Luckily, it worked out in our favor."
Bleeding leg aside, Smith was excellent given the circumstances, in which he faced a stingy Pittsburgh defense and was forced to do so without rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who was sidelined with a toe injury. Smith instead turned to J.D. McKissic for a healthy serving of swing passes, moving the ball down the field and keeping Washington's drives alive in the comeback effort. The combination of these completions and timely connections with other key targets like Cam Sims helped lift Washington past Pittsburgh, securing an emphatic win that was the latest signal that Washington might be turning the corner in its first year under Ron Rivera.
The win pulled Washington even with New York in the standings, and though it'll need the Giants to lose in order to take a lead (since New York owns the head-to-head tiebreaker), keeping pace was paramount for Washington's postseason hopes, which are still very much alive. It sets up for an important final month for a team that didn't appear to be headed toward such an opportunity just a month ago.
"To be playing meaningful football in December and to come on the road and beat a team like Pittsburgh in their own place, you know, those guys let loose," Smith said. "Obviously, feeling good. So, it was a ton of fun being here, a very mature win for our young football team. So, happy for 'em."
He'll be even happier if Washington ends up playing meaningful football in the second week of January. Wins like Monday night's made such a scenario that much more possible.