Smart and correctly, Rivera plays it cool with Alex Smith originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Most people know the joy of an awesome first date. Not everything needs to go perfect to know there's chemistry, and attraction, but things need to go well.
And unlike movies and cheesy romance novels, most dates happen after actually already hanging out a few times. Maybe two people meet in a group of friends, or at a concert, and then later agree to go out on an actual, real first date.
Then the lightning bolt hits.
Well, consider Sunday's game in Detroit that really good first date between Alex Smith and Ron Rivera.
Sure, Smith had already played this season. His return to the NFL came in Week 5, a dreadful performance against the Rams where Smith got beaten and battered by the Los Angeles defensive line in a steady rain. At that point, Smith hardly looked ready to be back on the field.
A few weeks later, Smith took the field again, and things looked better. Except for three interceptions.
Through it all, Rivera saw enough to put Smith back out there, this time as a starter. And maybe it was more about the coach's other QB options - cough Dwayne Haskins cough - but regardless the 36-year-old passer got his chance.
And he played very well.
Smith threw for nearly 400 yards with no turnovers. Washington lost but not before a wild comeback that tied the game late in the fourth quarter after trailing by three touchdowns in the third quarter.
Here's what else Smith did that doesn't exactly translate to the box score - he gives young skill position players on Washington's offense a chance to develop.
Cam Sims has more targets, catches and yards in the past six quarters than he has in his three-year NFL career. All came with Smith at QB.
Isaiah Wright registered a career high with six catches and a career high with 59 receiving yards on Sunday. All came with Smith at QB.
Steven Sims was targeted six times and made five catches in Detroit, both season highs. All came with Smith at QB.
Now Smith did throw 55 times, which does not seem like a recipe for wins, but given the Washington defense's poor play in the first half, the Burgundy and Gold was forced to throw. And Smith spreads it around.
Asked on Monday about Smith's future with the team after the strong performance in Detroit, Rivera still decided to play it cool.
"You’ve got to look at how much longer you think he can play, how much longer he does want to play," the coach said. "If so, is he part of your plan? Again, that’s something that we as a coaching staff and an organization have to talk about, most certainly, if this continues and if he continues to play at this high level."
A few weeks back Smith was asked how much longer he wanted to play. The veteran quarterback is under contract through the 2022 season, but he also missed nearly two full years after a broken leg in 2018. That he's even walking right now is a testament to modern medicine and his own personal will, and that he's playing football might be a downright miracle.
"Those are conversations for an offseason,” Smith said via the Washington Football Talk podcast.
“For me, I love lacing up my cleats every single day. I love throwing the helmet on every single day. I’m having an amazing time. There’s a long time I didn’t think this was ever going to be remotely possible."
Smith's comeback is an incredible story, but for Rivera, he's smart to wait and see what happens in 2021.
To begin with, seven games remain in the 2020 season. A billion different things could happen just this year. And when the offseason arrives, Washington will have serious decisions to make.
What happens with Dwayne Haskins? It sure seems like the relationship in Washington between last year's 15th-overall pick and the organization has deteriorated to the point Haskins could be playing ball elsewhere next spring. And what about Kyle Allen? Could he be back?
Washington could also land an early first-round pick next year, maybe even Top 5. If that happens, Smith could be the perfect mentor for a young quarterback. That scenario worked well in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes.
But is that what Smith wants? Nobody has examined that.
Right now, for both parties, it's not necessary to lock in the 2021 season. That will take care of itself.
If Smith keeps throwing for 350 yards or more, Rivera might not even look for a young QB in the first-round next year. If Smith goes back to his old ways of 200 passing yards and conservative play, Rivera might have to look elsewhere this year.
Right now it looks like Smith will be on the Washington roster for the 2021 season. It does.
But if the quarterback carousel in Washington has taught us anything for the last 20 years, things can change fast.
That's how Rivera described Smith when asked if he could be Washington's long-term answer at quarterback.
In 2020, possibly is about a good of an answer that exists. Stadiums are empty, games and practices have been cancelled, and long-term planning seems like an arcane luxury.
After the Detroit game, things are good between Rivera and Smith. Neither party needs to mess that up by talking about next year, not when there is another game this weekend to plan for, and somehow, Washington is still in the division title hunt.
Besides, everyone knows that after one good date the conversation doesn't shift to marriage and mortgages. Have another good date, maybe even a few of them, and see where things go.