The Washington Football Team won the NFC East in 2020, which was a remarkable accomplishment considering what head coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Alex Smith went through during the season.
Last August, just a few weeks before Washington's first game, Rivera announced he had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. Rivera never missed a game, but his chemotherapy and treatment forced him to miss some practices and limited the energy the head coach could exert towards coaching football.
Meanwhile, quarterback Alex Smith made his return from a life-threatening leg injury in 2018 to lead Washington to five wins in six starts, guiding them to its first division title in five seasons.
Speaking on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin praised both Smith and Rivera for the adversity they fought through and how they never put their individual situations above the team.
"Just the way they approached practice. You would have never known anything was wrong, by the way. They never had a feel-sorry-for-me moment," McLaurin said. "They never really had moments where they were going to use what they were going through as an excuse. They were always going to put their best foot forward."
The perseverance of both Rivera and Smith, battling back when they were counted out, was a microcosm of Washington's 2020 season. The club started off 2-7 and appeared to be destined for another top 5 draft pick. Then, Washington turned it on during the season's final two months, winning five of its last seven games to clinch the NFC East.
Part of the reason Washington was able to turn it around was that the team believed in Smith, who became the full-time starter in Week 10 following an ankle injury to Kyle Allen.
Smith's numbers didn't necessarily stand out -- they were pedestrian at best -- but just his presence in the huddle completely changed things for the Burgundy and Gold.
"One thing with Alex, he was just cool, man," McLaurin said. "You come in the huddle, when you see [No.] 11 coming in, you feel like you have a chance. And the way he galvanized our team and put us in the best position to make a playoff run was really cool."
A couple of months after the 2020 season, Smith -- who was named the NFL's 2020 Comeback Player of the Year -- announced his retirement from the NFL. Washington now has another veteran signal-caller in the building in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who the club hopes will adopt the culture Rivera has established to try and build a consistent winner.
"I think Coach Rivera has done a great job of coming in and basically shifting our culture," McLaurin said.