The Washington Football Team fell behind early and could never find its rhythm offensively in a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Here are five takeaways from the Week 5 matchup:
1. Alex Smith achieved his ultimate goal of playing again.
Some things are bigger than the final score, and quarterback Alex Smith returning to the field after a life-threatening leg injury is certainly one of them.
Smith, who was named the backup quarterback earlier this week, had not played since Nov. 18, 2018, when a gruesome leg injury resulted in 17 surgeries and a long, arduous recovery.
There were moments when Smith did not know if he would ever walk normally again; about 23 months later, he was back at FedExField in the burgundy and gold.
Smith's return was not what he would have hoped -- he completed nine of his 17 passes for just 37 yards -- but simply taking the field again was a remarkable accomplishment. He did so after Kyle Allen left the game with an arm injury in the second quarter, and despite Allen being cleared to return after halftime, Smith remained under center.
"It was great to be out there," Smith said. "The feeling, the range of emotions -- the good and the bad -- is why I fought so hard to come back. I think sometimes you can take it for granted, and certainly being away from it for a couple of years, I've missed it. So good to be back in it rolling, and like I said, we'll look at the film and get better and keep moving forward."
2. Washington got off to another slow start.
The Rams' offense went up and down the field during the first quarter and a half Sunday. Its first touchdown drive spanned 10 plays and 76 yards, while its second lasted just four plays, ending with a 56-yard strike from quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Robert Woods.
Holding a 13-6 lead, the Rams then put together a nine-play, 83-yard possession that Goff capped with a two-yard touchdown run. Up to that point, he completed 13-of-14 passes for 194 yards and accounted for two scores.
The Rams only scored 10 points the rest of the way, but Washington's early deficit proved too steep to overcome. It marked the fourth straight game that Washington trailed by double digits at halftime.
"Very disappointing," said defensive end Montez Sweat, who recorded the team's only sack. "As a group, we've just got to stay together and fix the things that are not working. We've got to do more and find a way to be better."
3. The offense could not find its rhythm.
A lot of blame will be placed on Washington's offensive line, which gave up eight sacks Sunday. But to head coach Ron Rivera, the more concerning part was the defense's struggles early on. Once the Rams were ahead, they could get after the quarterback without fear of losing the lead or falling further behind. "Anytime a team can pin their ears back, it's tough to protect."
Still, the offense could not get anything going aside from its 10-play, 73-yard drive towards the end of the first quarter. Following Allen's rushing touchdown, which put Washington ahead, 7-6, the team punted on nine of its final 11 possessions and finished with just 108 total yards.
"They got the lead, and it was raining pretty good," said running back J.D. McKissic, who led Washington in targets (eight), receptions (six) and yards (46). "We couldn't pass how we wanted to. It was a lot of things that played a role. A rainy game, trying to throw the ball the way we wanted to with wet balls was difficult."
4. If Kyle Allen is healthy enough, he'll be the starter moving forward.
Allen, who left the game late in the second quarter with an arm injury, was cleared to return to the in the second half. Yet when the offense came back onto the field, Smith stayed in at quarterback.
Rivera said the decision to keep Allen on the sidelines was out of an "abundance of caution."
"He took a pretty good shot -- he was still sore -- but he was still cleared to play. And I just felt, 'You know what, why risk putting him out there and taking another big shot that might have caused a little bit of damage."
Assuming Allen is fully healthy by Wednesday, Rivera said he'll be the starting quarterback and Smith will be the backup for Week 6 against the New York Giants. Allen completed nine of his 13 passes for 74 yards and ran for a touchdown Sunday.
"I thought Kyle, when he was out there, played great," Smith said. "I thought he played decisive, quick and certainly leading us down on that touchdown drive. I was really bummed for him -- I was excited for his opportunity. He's a good kid, he works really hard."
5. Even at 1-4, Washington still has a chance to take control of the NFC East.
Despite a lopsided defeat, Washington, at worst, will only be a game out of first place in the NFC East entering Week 6. That's because the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping them to 1-3-1. The Dallas Cowboys were 1-3, and the New York Giants were 0-4 prior to their matchup Sunday afternoon.
Washington, which has won its only divisional game, will have three more over the next four weeks, starting with a road tilt against the Giants next weekend. Then it'll host the Cowboys and Giants with a bye week wedged in between.
"We know that if we just put it all together and play consistently, that we can go out here and make a run," said cornerback Kendall Fuller, who made his third interception in two games. "We've got three division games coming up, and the key to getting to the playoffs is winning your division, so we've got to lock in these next three weeks."