When Ron Rivera announced that Kyle Allen would start at quarterback for the Washington Football Team it qualified as major news. The team benched 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to get to Allen.

But when Ron Rivera then announced that Alex Smith would back Allen up, that sent shockwaves.

Many in Washington and around the country thought that Smith making the improbable comeback from an infected compound fracture of his leg two years ago was simply a nice story of perseverance. Smith would never actually play, at least that was the conventional wisdom. 

Then, as August turned into September and Smith made Washington's active roster coming out of training camp, plenty of people still thought it was a symbolic gesture, Rivera rewarding the veteran quarterback for all his hard work. 

This is the NFL. There are no symbolic gestures. No rewards. 

Smith made the roster because he could play, and now he's one snap away from being back on the field. 

Washington will only dress two quarterbacks Sunday against the Rams: Allen and Smith. If Allen twists an ankle, sprains a thumb, or maybe if he just plays bad, Smith will be in the game. 

Let that sink in. 

"Alex has been in the system. He understands it and I want to put the ball back in the hands of somebody who’s been in it," Rivera said Wednesday.

The coach said that Smith has been totally cleared by team doctors and that he's ready to play football. 

 

So what should expectations be?

It's entirely possible Allen goes out and lights it up. Last year playing for Rivera in Carolina, Allen threw four touchdown passes in his first start and the Panthers won four games in a row with him at QB. Then things turned, the interceptions started to mount and Carolina lost the last seven games in which Allen played. 

In 12 starts last year Allen completed about 62 percent of his passes with 17 TDs against 16 INTs. He also fumbled the ball 13 times and lost seven of them. 

Allen can make plays happen with his feet and will take some chances down field, but the turnovers are scary.

What does Alex Smith not do? Turn it over. 

Smith has not thrown more than eight interceptions in a season since 2010, and five times in the last decade he's thrown six or fewer picks. Smith also has three Pro Bowl appearances and multiple playoff games in that time span. 

Ron Rivera wants to compete for the NFC East title, now, and by the grace of three other bad football teams, Washington has that opportunity. 

If Allen can come in and play well, move the offense while protecting the football, he probably gets a lengthy stay as QB1.

If Allen comes in and turns it over, the move for Smith could be swift. 

In Allen's last four games of 2019 he turned it over nine times. That won't be tolerated, especially in a vital four-game stretch for Washington where the opponents are a combined 4-12. 

"We’ve got four games that are critical. They are four games that are conference games. Three of those four are divisional games. That’s what this is. This is a short term to find out," Rivera said. 

When games are critical, coaches won't tolerate many mistakes.

For nearly two years Alex Smith has been proving the doubters wrong. Don't expect that to stop now.