Typically, watching a quarterback get taken down for a sack would bring no positive takeaways to the mind of a head coach.
Yet on Sunday for Ron Rivera, there was one exception. As Alex Smith was tackled by Aaron Donald -- and then some other Rams -- upon his return to the football field for the first time since 2018, it may have been the first sack that Rivera was somewhat pleased to see.
As Smith came up from the turf, it showed the head coach that the quarterback could handle the physicality of a live-action game.
“Well that was good to see, to be honest, now you know he could handle it," Rivera said following Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Rams.
While Rivera's decision to move Smith to the No. 2 quarterback on the roster showed that he believed Smith was healthy enough to take the field. Still, the question of how his body would react to its first real hit in nearly two years had been a consistent point of concern.
Smith continued to clear checkmarks throughout the summer, eventually making the 53-man roster. Despite trending in the right direction, Rivera was adamant that the only way he could confidently let Smith play as if the quarterback demonstrated he could protect himself and take a hit.
No drills in practice could prepare Smith for what happens in an NFL game. So when Donald wrapped him up on Sunday, it was the first concrete indication that he was ready for the physicality.
"That’s the one thing we didn’t see through training camp was whether or not he could take the hit," Rivera said. "He handled it, he handled it very well."
Running back J.D. McKissic, who caught Smith's first pass in his return, has seen Smith continue to progress throughout camp. When the quarterback was consumed by the Rams' defense, he had no worries that he would get up and keep going.
“It’s football," McKissic said. "He’s ready for that.”
Smith's ability to take that hit, and numerous others on Sunday added to what Rivera thought was an impressive day for the quarterback. The stats may not look great, but given the situation of the team and the defense they faced, Smith's Sunday was just the latest chapter in an incredible comeback.
"Again, he’s done a great job," Rivera said. "It’s a hell of a story.”