Everything changed when Alex Smith writhed in agony on the FedExField turf, his lower right leg bent unnaturally.
For the Washington Redskins. For the entire NFC East.
The complexion of the division was inexorably altered with just six weeks remaining.
So, now what?
The Redskins lost their quarterback to a broken fibula and tibia, a horrific compound fracture that will cost him the rest of the season and beyond. They also lost what seemed to be a rather clear path to the division title.
And the Dallas Cowboys were handed an opening.
In a short week, there isn’t much time for first-place Washington (6-4) to find answers beyond promoting backup Colt McCoy. (Newly signed QB Mark Sanchez is NOT an answer, merely a contingency. He suits up with the Redskins tomorrow, six years to the day of his infamous Butt Fumble.)
But the winner of the Short-Week Showdown on Thanksgiving between the Redskins and Cowboys (5-5) in Dallas will hold first place in what has become a two-team race.
Why? In the City of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Eagles went from missing “accountability” — at least according to C Jason Kelce — to showing an “embarrassing” lack of “fight” in their demoralizing 48-7 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, according to team leader Malcolm Jenkins.
Super Bowl Hangover or not, it has been a stunning fall for the defending champions.
The Eagles (4-6) host the New York Giants (3-7), coming off their second straight win behind the suddenly Lazarus-like Eli Manning (17-of-18 passing, 231 yards, 2 TDs).
Here are the rest of the stories around the NFC East this week:
What a difference two weeks can make.
After a two-touchdown loss Nov. 5 to the Titans, coach Jason Garrett was all-but fired. Calls were growing to bench Dak Prescott. The offensive line was a shell of its once-dominant self.
And now? America’s Team could be in first place with a Thanksgiving Day victory.
But don’t overlook McCoy, writes Blogging the Boys’ RJ Ochoa. Four years ago, he led Washington on a Monday night in AT&T Stadium against a Dallas team riding a six-game winning streak. All he did was complete 25-of-30 passes for 299 yards and scored a rushing touchdown in a 20-17 Redskins’ overtime victory.
A primetime performance in primetime.
In injury news, starting TE Geoff Swaim suffered a broken wrist in the Cowboys’ 22-19 win against the Atlanta Falcons.
Swaim (26 receptions, 242 yards, 1 TD) may be able to return before the end of the regular season.
Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers will replace him.
The only sign of life Sunday might have been Jenkins flipping off his former coach, Sean Payton.
Six games may remain for the defending champs. But if the embarrassing loss to New Orleans is any indication, the Eagles’ season is already over.
Jenkins explained why to reporters on Tuesday:
”It was embarrassing, quite frankly. It was one of those things that I didn’t feel like as a team we had a lot of fight. I would rather get thrown out of a game than just lay down and take it. … At this point in time, we need to figure some things out about ourselves.”
It’s a bit too late for that, don’t you think?
But the safety wasn’t done.
”You’re going to get blown out regardless. You’re either going to get blown out swinging or you’re going to get blown out laying down. And I think you had a little bit of both.”
A Super Bowl champ “laying down”?
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters on Tuesday, “It’s been challenging to integrate” Golden Tate, Bleeding Green Nation’s John Stolnis reports.
That is a startling admission for a professional coordinator. Do the Eagles really miss Frank Reich that badly? Or is there a major disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff?
Tate, a 2014 Pro Bowler, came from Detroit last month in exchange for a third-round draft pick, but has caught just seven passes for 67 yards in two games.
Groh also admitted he hasn’t done a good enough job handling the receiver position overall, which has affected their incumbent slot WR Nelson Agholor and his designated role.
There is one piece of good news. The Eagles activated DT Tim Jernigan (reserve/non-football injury list), offering help to Fletcher Cox on the inside.
Jay Gruden trusts McCoy as much as any coach can trust his backup quarterback.
But the next-man-up ethos simply does not apply when your franchise quarterback goes down in such grisly fashion.
So for Washington, it’s not a matter of overcoming the loss. It’s about mitigating the disaster.
The good news, if any can be found, is the Redskins are not the kind of high-flying juggernaut that the Rams, Saints and Chiefs field. They are a balanced offense built on patient drives and no turnovers. That means far less pressure on McCoy to create, even though he has more of a gunslinger mentality than Smith.
Will he do be enough to hold onto first-place in the weak NFC East?
Can the NFL’s 15th-rated defense (356.9 yards per game) and the resurgence of 33-year-old RB Adrian Peterson carry them? Can McCoy squeeze out enough points with RB Chris Thompson (ribs) out and LT Trent Williams (thumb) and WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) questionable?
Even though the Redskins will have as many as five different starters on offense compared to the team that last month beat Dallas, 20-17, an opportunity awaits, writes Hogs Haven’s Tom Garrett. A victory gives Washington a two-game lead in the standings, but also the tiebreaker. So in effect, a potential three-game lead with five to play.
If, that is, McCoy can lead them to it.