04Jan

After dispatching uninterested Eagles, Washington is playoff bound

For the first time since 2015, the Washington Football Team is headed to the postseason, thanks to a 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles (who were eliminated from the playoffs one week earlier and were more than happy to get this meaningless game over as quickly as possible).

While the contest was anything but pretty, head coach Ron Rivera and his players should absolutely refuse to apologize for the way this game — and this season — played out. When Washington was 2-7 and seemingly destined for another season as one of the league’s laughingstocks, the nameless football team rallied together and turned it around.

Led by quite possibly the best defensive line in pro football, Washington rallied to win five of their final seven games while holding opponents to 20 points or less in each outing. And with Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen keeping opposing offenses on the heels, Washington’s offense was able to cobble together enough output each week to get the job done.

During recent weeks, quarterback Alex Smith, running back Antonio Gibson and receiver Terry McLaurin all battled various injuries and ailments, which made it even more difficult for offensive coordinator Scott Turner to scheme up ways to put points on the board. During Week 17, the Football Team actually scored on its opening drive for the first time all season, which is both impressive and depressing at the same time.

After safety Kamren Curl intercepted rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts on the Eagles’ second drive of the game, Washington added a field goal to take a commanding 10-0 lead. Sadly, the surprising first half output was too good to last, and Hurts scored a rushing touchdown on each of Philly’s next two drives as the Eagles took a 14-10 lead. But inspired play by Washington’s defense, as well as tactical decisions by the Eagles coaching staff (like benching the one guy who put points on the board), insured that Philadelphia’s offense remained dormant the rest of the evening.

Amazingly, Washington will now host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a playoff game next Saturday night. That’s a sentence absolutely no one would have believed a year ago when Rivera was announced as the new head coach of a 3-13 embarassment …

28Dec

Washington’s promising season self destructs at worst-possible time

Win and you’re in. Sounds simple enough, right? What could go wrong …

Because the NFC East is a no good, very bad division and because NFL bylaws mandate that someone must win every division, Washington amazingly found itself with a chance to clinch a playoff spot if they were able to defeat the Carolina Panthers in Week 16.

This game also had significant meaning to head coach Ron Rivera, who spent nearly a decade with the Panthers organization before a loss to Washington last season cost him his job. A trip to the postseason with your new team at the expense of your old one? Seriously, all of the stars were aligning perfectly for the burgundy and gold.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before — the Washington Football Team simply refused to take the easy route and suffered a humbling loss to a pitiful opponent.

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins, fresh off the heels of his mediocre return to play one week earlier in a loss to Seattle, celebrated the occasion by breaking the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols when he was caught partying mask-less with strippers during a pandemic. That childish stunt cost him a reported $40,000 and his captaincy with the team, and insured the 2019 first-round draft pick was nice and distracted by the time Washington and Carolina took the field.

With all eyes on him, Haskins then responded with his worst performance as a “pro,” going 14 of 28 for 154 yards with three turnovers before he was mercifully benched for what should absolutely be the final time during his uninspired tenure in Washington. Rivera then turned to a gentleman named Taylor Heinicke to finish out the game, and was rewarded with a captivating showing from the former XFL backup — as Heinicke went 12 of 19 for 137 yards with a 29-yard touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic.

Washington will now travel to Philadelphia for the regular season finale and one final shot at a possible playoff birth.

21Dec

Between benchings, Dwayne Haskins underwhelms in return to action

After four games, Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera had seen enough of quarterback Dwayne Haskins to decide he wasn’t the answer.

Rather than waiting for the former first-round draft pick to develop better study habits and eliminate the consistent inconsistencies in his game, Rivera decided he owed it to the rest of the locker room to move forward with someone else at football’s most important position. With Haskins no longer in the picture, Washington slowly began to turn around their season and –amazingly — a playoff appearance is no longer viewed as crazy talk.

But football seasons are a marathon and nothing is ever easy in Washington, so Rivera and friends suddenly find themselves in a situation where they’re once again forced to turn to Haskins. Rest assured, if he had a healthy alternative, Rivera would have happily handed them the football for Washington’s pivotal matchup against the Seattle Seahawks as the franchise looked to extended its four-game winning streak. Alas, these are the cards the Riverboat gambler were dealt in Week 15.

Predictably, without Alex Smith or even Kyle Allen behind center, and with dynamic running back Antonio Gibson also injured, Washington never really had a chance offensively, which is a shame because the Football Team’s defense keeps them in every contest. Ultimately, Haskins missed open receivers, struggled with situational awareness and turned the ball over too often (two interceptions and a fumble) to prove he deserved his latest last chance. In related news, Washington is now 1-4 in games started by Haskins on the season.

23Nov

Bengals lose a game, so much more in demoralizing defeat to Washington

The Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Football Team were the two worst teams in football in 2019, and if the current season ended today, both would be in the bottom five of the NFL again this year. Needless to say, these two beleaguered franchises squaring off in a midseason matchup won’t qualify as must-see television in most markets.

That is, unless you’re excited about seeing Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow and Washington defensive end Chase Young, the top two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, do battle. Throughout the first half, Burrow electrified and entertained — completing 22 of 34 passes for 203 yards with a touchdown — all with Young breathing down his neck in constant pursuit. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner nearly scrambled for a touchdown on the Bengals’ second drive of the game, only to be stopped short by, you guessed it, his former Ohio State teammate.

Both players lived up to the hype and gave their respective fanbases plenty to cheer for, until Burrow was forced from the game due to a devastating knee injury when Washington defensive end Montez Sweat hit him high at the same time defensive lineman Jonathan Allen was blocked into him low. Without their franchise quarterback, the Bengals looked shellshocked and barely put up a fight the rest of the game — putting up just 25 yards of offense in the final two quarters — as Washington cruised to an easy 20-9 victory.

12Oct

Alex Smith’s return proves happy endings only exist in movies, massage parlors

When Washington quarterback Alex Smith grabbed his helmet and stepped back onto an NFL field for the first time in nearly two years, it was impossible not to get caught up in the moment. 

After all, the 36-year-old grizzled veteran suffered one of the most devastating and gruesome injuries imaginable. His situation was so dire that, at one point, difficult conversations took place about possibly amputating his right leg because of infections, which led to an astounding 17 surgeries. To see what he was up against during his recovery process, Smith actually spent time with service members who had their bodies ravaged by an improvised explosive device.

Forget ever playing again. Collect the paychecks for as long as you can and focus on getting healthy enough to be able to play with your kids. Best case scenario, maybe Smith would transition into a role on the coaching staff or in the front office. That was the narrative that everyone else wrote about Smith. Amazingly, he had other plans.

Just 693 days after being carted off the field, the University of Utah standout improbably resumed his playing career. The fact that he did so for head coach Ron Rivera, who was diagnosed with cancer in August, was a much-needed moment of positivity in an otherwise awful 2020. No one would blame Disney and Hallmark for immediately getting into a bidding war for the rights to tell his story.

And yet, because happy endings only exist in movies and massage parlors, the feel-good moment ended in a violent flash, thanks to Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams. Washington amassed just 108 total yards in a humbling 30-10 defeat and are now just 1-3 on the season.

05Oct

Washington Football Team no match for Lamar Jackson’s Ravens

As the reigning National Football League Most Valuable Player, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, scampered virtually untouched for a 50-yard touchdown during the second quarter, it was painfully apparent the Washington Football Team was on its way to a third-consecutive loss.

With the outcome a forgone conclusion, Baltimore let off the gas, but still managed to cruise to an easy 31-17 victory over Washington at FedEx Field.

Simply put, the Ravens are better in all three phases of the game and a minimal effort by a superior squad was more than enough to secure the win. Their offense toyed with Washington defenders, the defense tallied three sacks and a forced fumble and their special teams added a fake punt … seemingly just for giggles.

After throwing three interceptions against the Cleveland Browns last week, quarterback Dwayne Haskins responded by completing 32 of 45 attempts for career-high 314 yards and a 90.4 passer rating. By no means was the second-year pro perfect, but he avoided turnovers and, for the most part, made better decisions with the ball against a stout Baltimore defense.

Rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who continues to shine as both a ball carrier and pass catcher, finished the game with 128 total yards and his third touchdown in as many games. Receiver Terry McLaurin, who was questionable coming into the game due to an apparent thigh injury, still managed to haul in 10 catches for 118 yards on the day. On the other side of the ball, cornerback Kendall Fuller had two interceptions, picking off both Jackson and backup Robert Griffin III. But these individual efforts weren’t nearly enough to keep Washington in the game as Baltimore jumped ahead early and never looked back.

14Sep

Defense dominates as Washington rallies to stun Eagles

“We play for each other. It’s about us as a team. Eleven guys doing one thing at a time, not one trying to do 11. Do your job to the best of your abilities and we win.”

Head coach Ron Rivera delivered these words to his players as they prepared to take the field for their season opener. We know that thanks to the wonderful Amazon Prime “All or Nothing” series, which followed Rivera’s Carolina Panthers during the 2018 season. While it was a different team during a different year, it shows viewers the mindset Rivera wants to establish with his teams.

Washington clearly hasn’t performed on a level anywhere comparable to the Philadelphia Eagles over the last decade or so, but if all eleven guys are doing their part and playing for each other, the results will be there. Believe in your teammates and believe in the system. Sounds simple, right? But what happens when you find yourself down by three scores before halftime? Will the players stick to the plan? Or will the same selfish and self-destructive tendencies that have doomed this franchise for decades begin to surface?

That’s what was so enjoyable about Sunday’s come-from-behind victory in the season opener — while they started the game looking very much like the same, old NFC East doormat for most of the first half, Washington refused to revert back to their typical lowest common denominator. This isn’t Jay Gruden’s football team. Greg Manusky isn’t walking through those doors to hold back these players. We have no clue how Rivera will be remember once his days in D.C. are over, but this was a wonderfully perfect debut for the 58-year-old.

Eight sacks by seven different players. Franchise records set. First win in a home opener since 2014. And a respectable showing against a franchise that has dominated Washington for far too long. This wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but eleven players clearly did the job to the best of their abilities, and they won.

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