17May

New-look D.C. United shows signs of life in loss to Orlando City

For more than two decades, Ben Olsen was the heart and soul of D.C. United. After spending 11 seasons in the nation’s capital as a player, Olsen became the team’s coach in 2010. When D.C. United and the 44-year-old parted ways last fall, it meant the club would need to establish a new identity. 

Meet Hernán Losada. The 38-year-old Argentine was clearly not a household name before he was announced as Olsen’s successor, but his arrival signaled an absolute changing of the guard in D.C.  

No longer will D.C. United sit back and go passively into the night. Losada’s brand features a high-pressing, high-energy style of play that will definitely make the black and red more fun to watch … once his current players are up to speed with the system and the front office adds a few more pieces to the roster.  

In the meantime, frustrating matches like this one – where D.C. United had the bulk of possession, a 10-2 advantage on corner kicks and outshot Orlando City SC 13-6, but lost 1-0 – are bound to happen. Optimistic fans should remain hopeful that better days are ahead for one of the original titans of Major League Soccer. 

17May

Rookie camp brings new faces, hope to Washington

While an unexpected division title and playoff berth was a welcome distraction, head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the Washington Football Team brain trust knows there’s plenty more work to be done before the franchise can be considered a regular contender. 

That’s why something as simple as 16 youngsters donning burgundy and gold while taking the practice field for the first time is so noteworthy for coaches and fans alike. Everyone from the team’s 2021 first-round draft pick, Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, to an undrafted free agent like running back Jaret Patterson represents hope of better days. 

One of these players could become a future franchise cornerstone or a Pro Bowler. Perhaps there is a hidden gem or a future team captain in the mix. Optimism reigns supreme in most NFL cities this time of year, but really, after two decades of mediocrity, maybe we should cut WFT fans a little slack and let them dream a little dream. 

17Apr

Schwarber’s walk-off winner propels Nats over Diamondbacks

Washington Nationals starter and first-ballot Hall of Famer Max Scherzer did everything within his power to secure a victory over his former club, the Arizona Diamondbacks — striking out 10 while allowing no runs, two hits and two walks over seven innings.

In fact, his outing was so impressive that the 36-year-old actually surpassed the legendary Cy Young for the 22nd-most strikeouts (2,807) of all-time. And yet, Scherzer’s heroic effort was nearly wasted because of Washington’s inability to produce anything resembling a coherent offense.

While Scherzer is easily one of the most intense and competitive athletes in professional sports, he’s probably willing to live with a no-decision on this day. That’s because left fielder Kyle Schwarber picked a fine time for his first home run as a member of the Nationals, launching a towering solo shot to the ballpark’s second deck in the bottom of the ninth inning to end the game 1-0 in the most dramatic of fashion.

10Jan

No-name quarterback nearly leads nameless team to postseason glory

The Washington Football Team was in a position to win the pitiful NFC East and a trip to the playoffs thanks largely to one of the best defensive lines in football and inspired play from future Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith. 

Since 2018, Washington is 11-5 when Smith starts and 6-27 when he does not. While his numbers during his time in our nation’s capital have never been flashy, Smith continually does just enough to put his team in a position to win. Following this trend, Washington went 5-1 during Smith’s starts and 2-8 when Dwayne Haskins/Kyle Allen led the offense during the 2020 season. 

With Smith sidelined due to injury as they hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a wild card weekend, Washington was forced to turn to a fourth starting quarterback this season. 

Enter Taylor Heinicke. 

The XFL backup who signed with the franchise 32 days earlier, turned in the most enjoyable performance by a Washington Football Team quarterback during the 2020 season as he fought valiantly before a national audience in a 31-23 loss. 

On the night, Heinicke completed 26 of 44 attempts for 306 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The Old Dominion product also rushed six times for 46 yards, including a breathtaking, highlight of the night eight-yard score that legitimately made football fans everywhere stop and say, “How is this kid truly going toe-to-toe with the greatest quarterback in NFL history?” 

While head coach Ron Rivera and friends will naturally be disappointed in the loss, this particular defeat feels different than most. Rather than heading into yet another bleak offseason, this entertaining ending to a unique season might just signal better days ahead for the burgundy and gold. 

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.

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