Six hundred ninety-four days and 17 surgeries later, former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith completed his NFL comeback.
Nearly two years after he sustained a life-threatening broken leg, the Washington Football Team QB played in his first NFL game since Nov. 18, 2018 when he replaced injured starter Kyle Allen in the first half Sunday of a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
After all that he has been through, Smith said it was "very surreal at first" to take the field again.
"To have it happen as fast as it did was probably almost a blessing," Smith told reporters on a video conference. "I knew once Kyle took that shot there was a chance of it, and [I ran] over and grabbed my helmet, ready to roll. It was kind of nice, in that sense, not having to think about it. You just go out there and do it."
Smith completed 9 of 17 passes for 37 yards in relief of Allen. He was active as Washington's backup for the first time this season after the team benched 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins after just his 11th career start.
The 36-year-old Smith can relate to Haskins' frustrating start to his career, of course, considering everything he experienced after the 49ers drafted Smith No. 1 overall in 2005. Smith played in an organizational culture he later described as "completely dysfunctional" and under seven different offensive coordinators in seven seasons with the 49ers.
"I feel for him for sure," Smith said of Haskins. " ... [Being] a young quarterback in this league is hard enough, going out there and just playing, but obviously (he's) dealing with the ups and downs of it. I've talked to him a lot about the importance, certainly, of him focusing on himself, and his trajectory and his potential. All the things that go on around (him), all the distractions is not letting him be that. [He has to focus] on what he has to do to continue to get better, just like I'm focused on what I need to do to be the best that I can be for this team.
"As frustrated as I know he is, obviously it's important to try to put that aside and continue down his path."
Smith felt for Haskins and Allen on Sunday, but he was glad the situation required him to enter the game Sunday without really thinking. With his family on hand and cheering him on, the veteran QB got his long-awaited comeback out of the way.
Washington coach Ron Rivera said Allen will start at quarterback in Week 6 if he's healthy, and Smith said he'll be "ready to go" no matter his role next time around. After nearly two years off the field, Smith finally has new tape to evaluate.
"It was great to be out there," Smith said. "I think 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 years, I've missed it.
"Good to be back in it, rolling, ... and we'll look at the film, and get better and keep moving forward."