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Hot or Not

NFL Hot or Not: Alex Smith inspiration, Dak Prescott devastation

In the wake of Week 5, Marc Sessler dishes on what's hot -- and what's not -- in the NFL:


The Around the NFL Podcast gang leans on a weather-worn method for divvying up coverage assignments each Sunday. We go around the (virtual) room and pick the tilts one by one, draft style, splitting up the schedule in even fashion. Like the last kid picked on the playground, though, some matchups emit the whiff of a clunker. That was my initial reaction to landing the Rams visiting Washington. My attention waned as Los Angeles took command early in a largely formless affair. Shapeless until WFT starting arm Kyle Allen was knocked out of the game by a violent helmet-to-helmet collision with Rams cover man Jalen Ramsey. With demoted starter Dwayne Haskins watching from his couch, cameras suddenly cut to an image thought impossible mere months ago: Alex Smith warming up on the sideline.

Six-hundred and ninety-three days -- and 17 surgeries -- after suffering a gory leg injury, Smith was back. It was no dress rehearsal, either, as the veteran passer absorbed dense punishment from Aaron Donald, the Rams' do-everything defensive wonder who piled up four sacks on a day that saw Los Angeles total eight QB takedowns. It was stressful to observe, but Smith didn't flinch. Through unforgiving rainfall with behemoths closing in at every turn, Smith attempted to tune the broken instrument known as Washington's offense. It didn't go well by any measure, but I forgot about the score, the analytics, the grading of a beefy left guard by Pro Football Focus droids. It all faded away, replaced by a (mostly stress-laden) desire for Smith to stay in one piece and finish the game as his wife, Elizabeth, and their children cheered him on:

We live in oft-cynical days. It's easy to drift. This one pulled me back into orbit, though, with Smith completing a journey marked by ultra-resilience. It was the rare game that left the final score entirely in the rearview mirror. We needed this, and Smith deserved it:

As noted, Smith struggled -- throwing for a problematic 2.2 yards per attempt in the 30-10 loss -- but the game's least athletic moment was gifted to us by otherwise hot-to-the-touch Rams passer Jared Goff. This gaffe rests comfortably in the HOT portion of this writeup because I adore the occasional instance of statuesque, millionaire athletes looking more like a tax accountants:

It's 10:14 a.m. on a Monday. I reluctantly face the day while typing this B-minus jive into a laptop with fading battery power. Large portions of me desire to lie in a sunlit meadow somewhere in deep Scandinavia. Maybe start a new life as a low-drama landscaper with a huge truck -- or tending bar in a little beerhall where vibrant types are happy to see you. ... These are my daydreams eight months into a Corona-based lockdown. Then I encounter 69-year-old Pete Carroll, and feel the feelings felt by a world-class loser. Enough with thoughts of drifting away into some foreign utopia. How about we attack every moment of the day with this brand of soulful electricity? This zeal for existence! PETE DEMANDS IT.


Football injuries: They genuinely suck. One minute your quarterback is flirting with numbers never before witnessed; the next he's shuffled into the abyss.

Dak Prescott's hard-to-stomach ankle injury brought Sunday's clash with the Giants to a screeching halt. The replay was one-time-only material, with Dak suffering a compound fracture and dislocation that recalled boob-tube horrors of old endured by Joe Theismann and Tim Krumrie. It was a reminder to even the youngest viewer that pro football is no soft waltz through an April garden. By definition, the game asks high-speed objects -- human objects -- to collide in ways the physical body is bound to disagree with.

Prescott's loss curbs on an eye-popping campaign in which he was poised to become the first quarterback in league lore to cross the 2,000-yard mark in a five-game span. He hovered close at 1,856 yards when the injury struck midway through the third quarter of an eventual 37-34 win for Dallas. The numbers are an afterthought, though, with this Cowboys season -- no matter what comes next -- stamped by the image of Prescott, tears streaming down his face, pulled away from his teammates, his coaches and what might have been.

"I feel terrible for him," coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. "He was having a tremendous year. In my short time working with him, he's made such an impression on me and he's clearly the leader with this football team. I have no doubt that he'll bounce back from this and this will just be a part of his great story.

"He's a fine young man, and an outstanding quarterback."

You might just be dead within if nothing stirred at the sight of McCarthy being joined at Prescott's side by Jason Garrett, the ex-Cowboys coach who abandoned his G-Men play-calling nest out of concern for his former quarterback. "Dak's a true inspiration to so many, and I put myself at the top of that list," Garrett said. "I love him to death."

While the Cowboys handed out big-money deals to DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith Zeke Elliott and Amari Cooper, Prescott's extension never materialized. He never complained, simply going about his business as the polestar of a hot-and-cold Cowboys outfit. He'll be contract-free after his $31.4 million franchise-tag allotment expires, but Cowboys czar Jerry Jones said Sunday he harbors "no doubt" Prescott would return "to the position of leadership and purpose that he brings to our team."

On Monday, Cowboys VP Stephen Jones told the world: "He's our future."

I'm taking Jerry and Son at their word. Prescott is beloved for his play, but also what shines inside. He forged on after tragically losing his brother to suicide this past April, later sharing his own battle with mental health, telling interviewer Graham Bensinger: "All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I've never felt before. Anxiety for the main one. And then, honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression. And to the point of, I didn't want to work out anymore. I didn't know necessarily what I was going through, to say the least, and hadn't been sleeping at all."

The admission was too much for some to swallow, namely those uncomfortable with a star football player sharing real-life insecurities in a trade dominated by musclebound alphas. After all, the role of Cowboys starting quarterback borders on mythology. These days, though, falling for illusions is unhelpful. Many are begging for solutions to real problems amid a future dipped in the unknown. Mental health is taken seriously when someone like Prescott brings it to the light. There's no typecasting those who struggle.

Prescott gave us gaudy throws and starry touchdown laser-shots this season, but his honesty means more. His vulnerability. A new type of leader. When he returns, it's not just the player vaulting back into our lives, but the genuine man -- searching for answers just like the rest of us.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.

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