Rivera 'optimistic' about Alex Smith's chances of playing in Week 17

The Washington Football Team can clinch a playoff spot with a win in Week 17, so it’s easy to understand why they’d want their best option at quarterback available.

They’re not there yet, but Washington coach Ron Rivera is encouraged by Alex Smith’s chances of playing Sunday night against the Eagles.

“He was very close last week,” Rivera said of Smith, via the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala. “I thought he had an exceptional day on Friday, but it’s always about how that person feels the next day and he felt it was still grabbing him a little bit. … This week, I’m optimistic about the opportunity.”

Smith’s calf injury left him listed as questionable on Washington’s final injury report before its game against Carolina, and though he was a full participant in Friday’s practice ahead of the Week 16 game, he didn’t end up suiting up. Dwayne Haskins started in his place and struggled mightily, completing 14 of 28 passes for 154 yards while throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble before he was benched for Taylor Heinicke in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 20-13 loss.

Heinicke was noticeably better than Haskins, injecting life into Washington’s offense with a mini-comeback effort that came up short. Heinicke went 12 for 19 for 137 yards and a 29-yard touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic in the fourth, and he’ll start Sunday if Smith can’t go, Rivera said.

Washington’s best chance lies in Smith’s availability. With Smith, it’s as much about his ability to complete passes as it is about Smith not making fatal errors, something that doomed them Sunday.

“It’s about controlling the game, managing the tempo, protecting the football,” Rivera said of Smith’s impact. “If you look at the games we won, you’ll notice that our turnover ratio obviously is better … and the ball has been consistently spread [to multiple receivers].”

Washington will need Smith doing exactly that, and avoiding a turnover differential like the one it posted Sunday (4-2). Protecting the ball will be paramount to beating Philadelphia, which demonstrated its own issues with maintaining possession in a loss to Dallas on Sunday.

Perhaps most importantly, the Football Team is going to want to take a moment to enjoy the moment. After all, no one saw Washington in a win-and-in Week 17 game back in October.

“We got to get back to having a little bit of fun,” Rivera said. “The truth is we’re playing with house money. Nobody expected us to be here. … These guys deserve it.”

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