The Washington Football Team will try to win its fifth straight game for the first time since 2012 on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, but two of its most effective offensive weapons might not be available for the Week 15 matchup.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who is 4-1 as a starter since returning from a gruesome broken leg, is dealing with a calf injury that kept him out of the second half in last week's game against the San Francisco 49ers. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson is nursing a turf toe injury that forced him to miss the 49ers game.
Smith does not have eye-popping stats during Washington's four-game winning streak, but he has still been playing solid football this season. He has completed 66.4% of his passes for 1,420 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. That has contributed to the offense steadily improving over the past two months, as it has gained at least 300 yards in seven of the past eight games.
Smith was noticeably off in the first half against the 49ers; his opening pass to Terry McLaurin was off-target, and he only had two completions in the first quarter. Dwayne Haskins Jr. ultimately took over at quarterback as Smith jogged into the locker room before halftime. While Smith was on the sideline for the second half, he did not take another snap and finished 8-of-19 for 57 yards and an interception.
Head coach Ron Rivera said after the game that Smith developed "some tightness and muscle soreness as he was pushing off that right leg." The team performed X-Rays, which came back with "no issues," but the soreness remained, so the team decided to keep him out for precautionary reasons.
Gibson, who leads all rookies with 11 touchdowns, was injured in the first quarter of Washington's Week 13 game with the Pittsburgh Steelers after a 13-yard run. Gibson was starting to gain traction as one of the better young running backs in the NFL after rushing for 209 yards in his previous two games. He had scored eight touchdowns in his last five games, three of which came on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys.
Rivera said last Thursday that Gibson's turf toe is "concerning," especially for his position, and wanted to see how he progressed the next two days. Gibson did not practice the entire week and was ruled out for the 49ers game.
"It is complicated for a running back because he's got to plant, cut, turn," Rivera said. "I think the big toe -- that's where his power and energy that he runs with comes up. We're hoping for the best."
Washington managed to pull out a win over the 49ers without Gibson or Smith, but it will face a tougher challenge in the Seahawks, who are second in the NFC West and led by MVP candidate Russell Wilson. Here's how both have progressed throughout the week.
Both players were at practice for the third straight day with Smith going through "some of the drills," according to Rivera, and Gibson participating in individual drills. But with both players still experiencing lingering issues with their respective injuries, Smith has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Seahawks. Gibson (ankle) is listed as doubtful.
Smith was among the team's other quarterbacks again and did attempt to go through some of the individual drills. However, Smith still felt some tightness in his right calf while going through some game movements, which prohibited him from participating in the rest of practice. Haskins will be the starting quarterback against the Seahawks.
"For me, it just boils down to being honest with myself," Smith told reporters Wednesday. "I'm going to do everything I can all week from a treatment and rest standpoint, mentally preparing to get ready. Certainly, there is a point obviously here as the week goes on where decisions have to be made. For me, it's just about being honest. Either you can or you can't."
Haskins replaced Smith near the end of the first half against the 49ers and finished the game 7-of-12 for 57 yards. It will be Haskins' first start since Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. When asked if the team believes in Haskins, Rivera said "heck yeah, we believe in him."
"He has the athleticism, the ability and I've always said he has an NFL arm. He really and truly does."
Gibson went through individual drills with the other running backs, but when they synced up with the quarterbacks, he stayed behind with running backs coach Randy Jordan to work on his cuts.
"He looked decent," Rivera said. "It was his first time out there really running. And, again, it's one of those things where he's gotta get back into it day by day by day. We'll see how he feels tomorrow morning."
Rivera said he wanted to see Gibson go from a light tempo to going progressively harder. But there was a certain point where it was clear Gibson did not want to go any further, which indicated to Rivera that "he's not quite where we need him to be."
"As you watch him, you've got to be smart about the decisions that you make, and again, we'll see how he feels tomorrow morning, which is probably the biggest thing more so than anything else."
Neither Smith nor Gibson participated in individual drills at practice, according to the team's public relations department. Smith stood with the other quarterbacks, while Gibson worked off to the side with trainers. Haskins took the first-team reps for the second straight day.
After practice, Rivera said he didn't believe the uncertainty as to who would start at quarterback against the Seahawks would affect the players' preparation.
"I think, first and foremost, the players look and see who's behind center and then they take their cue from that guy, depending on who's taking the snaps."
Rivera said he is "very hopeful" Gibson will be able to return, but Washington is preparing for the possibility he will be unavailable for the Seahawks game and beyond. The team signed Lamar Miller off the Chicago Bears' practice squad, although he will not be eligible to play until after the Seahawks game. Miller has eight years of experience and two 1,000-yard seasons. He also made the Pro Bowl with the Houston Texans in 2018.
"We'll view him as a guy who can help us if we need to have him active," Rivera said of Miller. "We have a couple young guys that we like, both on our practice squad right now. Both are doing a good job. Lamar has played some quality football. He's given some really good minutes. He's coming off of an injury from last year. We checked up on him and found out everybody thought he's good to go. We're looking forward to having a veteran guy give us some quality minutes available just in case. That's what this is more so than anything else, just an insurance policy more so than anything else."
Both were at practice, but Gibson was working off to the side with trainers. Smith was among his fellow quarterbacks during individual drills, but Haskins was taking the first team reps. Both were listed as "Did Not Participate" on Wednesday's injury report.
"It's feeling all right," Smith said after practice. "Just taking it day-by-day. ...Obviously keep making improvements. [It's] early in the week here, so we'll see as it goes on."
With Smith's calf injury being in his right leg, it's easy to assume that it is related to the injury he suffered in 2018 and the surgeries that followed. But Smith assured the media that was "not at all" the case.
"It's all good news. Everything down there looks great. It's just a freak thing that coincidentally happened to the same leg."
It is unknown at this point how much Smith will practice this week, but Rivera seems confident that Smith could be ready even if he does not practice at all ahead of the Seahawks game.
"A smart football player like that, you usually don't worry about them being able to pick it up and be ready to go," he said.
Rivera said Gibson has made "good progress" with his toe and is pleased with where things are headed right now.