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Washington's injured players returned ahead of schedule to join playoff push

Washington's injured players returned ahead of schedule to join playoff push

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Washington’s two best offensive players, Alex Smith and Terry McLaurin, saw plenty of each other last week — it just wasn’t on the practice field.

Both were dealing with severe injuries, and both spent extensive time in the training room, determined to play in a crucial game against Philadelphia.

“We were in there every day at 6 a.m.,” McLaurin said. “Seeing a guy like that, who’s been through as much as he has and just continues to fight, continues to try to put himself in a situation to help this team, you can’t give him enough credit for that.”

Smith’s recovery from 17 leg surgeries is well-documented, but it’s a calf strain that has held him back during the past month.

As a reminder of how far he’s come, his wife, Elizabeth, gave him a Christmas gift — the fixator that held his leg in place after the surgeries, refashioned as the Lombardi Trophy.

“It was a surprise — I had no idea,” Smith said. “We had talked about doing something with the fixator. We tried to donate it, because they’re crazy expensive, but apparently those are one-time-use things.

“It was really cool to open that up on Christmas. Definitely one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever had.”

Smith and McLaurin’s drive to compete created tough decisions for coach Ron Rivera, who knew neither would be close to 100% for the game. In the end, both struggled at times, but were able to contribute key plays in the victory.

Offensive lineman Morgan Moses (Virginia), who has played through a number of injuries himself, said the attitude starts at the top — Rivera continued to work earlier this season while undergoing chemotherapy.

Moses noted that the underdog mentality has fueled Washington’s late-season surge.

“Look, nobody will bet on us, but we’ll bet on ourselves,” he said. “I’ll bet on everybody we’ve got on this roster. I saw Terry out there Saturday running a little bit of routes, and I was like, man, he’s going. Talked to Alex all week and I knew he was going.

“It’s just the grit of the team. We’ve got some gutsy guys, man.”

The coronavirus pandemic nearly short-circuited Smith’s return.

With a shortened training camp and the need to get the team ready for the season, there weren’t many snaps available for Smith. So a few days before final cuts, Smith met with coach Ron Rivera to plead his case.

He had nothing to worry about. Rivera knew Smith’s story, which was immortalized in an ESPN documentary, was inspirational to the entire team.

“You could hear the players talk about it,” Rivera said of the documentary. “They would be going, ‘Oh, are you kidding? He loves the game. That’s why he’s out there.’ That, to me, is a tangible thing that the guys can learn from.

“If you don’t learn from it, maybe you don’t deserve to be here. This is an opportunity that you’re not just given. You earn it. You’re not entitled to it. You have to earn it. You really do. For him to work his way back, that, to me tells the whole story.”

The story continues Saturday with another underdog opportunity in the playoffs. It’s unlikely McLaurin will be able to practice this week, and Smith will continue to be severely limited.

Both say they plan to be out there come game time.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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