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Colt McCoy stood before them and let his voice be heard.
In a time of uncertainty, in a moment when the Washington Redskins needed a new leader, McCoy felt compelled to speak.
He assured his locker room brothers that they could trust him, that they could expect nothing but his best in the days and weeks to come. But soon, the time for talk will be over.
McCoy will return to Texas — the state where he became a household name as a college quarterback — and try to keep the Redskins rolling in the absence of Alex Smith.
Smith’s season came to an abrupt and ugly end Sunday afternoon when he broke his right leg in an afternoon loss to the Houston Texans. But Washington had little time to wallow and McCoy had even less time to process everything that’s at stake.
In recent weeks, Washington seemed to have a firm lead in a division race involving the woeful New York Giants, the erratic (and Super Bowl-defending champion) Philadelphia Eagles and the inconsistent Cowboys.
But now Dallas is riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak and the Redskins are trying to make a postseason push with a longtime backup paving the way.
Writing off the Redskins would be foolhardy. Take a look at their schedule and you’ll see it’s more than possible for Jay Gruden’s team to earn a playoff berth for only the second time in his five-year tenure. Also, consider: Unlike the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, Washington’s success hasn’t solely been the result of its quarterback play. At the time of his injury, Smith was averaging 218 passing yards per game, had thrown 10 touchdowns and had an 85.7 QB rating. Thus far, the Redskins have relied heavily on their defense and the resurgence of 33-year-old running back Adrian Peterson.
“I just need to get guys the ball,” McCoy said, explaining his new role in its most simplest terms. “Get Adrian Peterson going, spread the field and count on the guys around me. I don’t have to go out there and do anything special.”
Washington players and coaches have long voiced their confidence in McCoy since he joined the team in 2014, following three seasons in Cleveland, where he compiled a 6-15 record as a starter.
They respected his tireless work ethic and appreciated his attention to detail and energy, despite remaining in the No. 2 role.
McCoy is always ready, they say.
“Colt is the strongest competitor I think I’ve ever seen,” said center Chase Roullier. “Even when he’s out there leading the scout team, it’s like a Super Bowl every single day to him.”
This past offseason, McCoy signed a one-year, $7 million extension to remain in Washington, the place he and his family have called home for the past few years. “We’re paying him pretty good to be our backup for a reason in case something like this happens,” Gruden said.
For all of their collective confidence in McCoy, there’s a reason he has been relegated to the sideline all this time, behind Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Smith, whom the Redskins signed to a four-year, $94 million contract in March. Someone, or some people within the organization, didn’t believe McCoy was the right choice to be their starter.
Now, it’s on McCoy to show the front office — and the rest of the NFC East — that Washington won’t falter down the stretch because of him.
During Redskins training camp this summer, McCoy explained to me that his passion for playing and his affinity for Gruden and the coach’s system kept him tied to Washington all these years. “If I’m going to play in the NFL, there’s nowhere I want to play right now other than the Redskins,” McCoy, a former starter for the Texas Longhorns and Heisman Trophy runner-up, said in late July. “I know how this team feels about me.”
But he made it clear that he wouldn’t be satisfied being a backup for the rest of his career. “By no means is this saying I’m content in my role,” McCoy told me. “But I’ll be the best I can be in this role for now.”
Though his playing opportunities have been limited in recent years, there’s one game in particular that Redskins brass highlight to show McCoy’s value to the organization: his prime-time performance in Washington’s 20-17 victory over the Cowboys on Oct. 28, 2014. In place of Cousins, McCoy went 25 for 30 for 299 yards and also ran for a 7-yard touchdown.
Now, there’s even more at stake for this homecoming.
Shortly after saying a prayer for Smith’s full recovery, the Redskins had no choice but to turn their focus to the future.
Another prime-time showdown with Dallas. And a gunslinger behind center.
“We have that insurance package in Colt McCoy,” cornerback Josh Norman said in the aftermath of the Houston game. “He broke it down: ‘You’re in good hands with me.’ I can take that any day.
“I see how the guy prepares and goes out there and works, and he prepares as if he is going to go in if something happens, and something did happen. That’s why he’s here and that’s why he got what he got and he’s here now. We are all behind him, fired up and ready to go. Can’t wait come Thursday.”
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