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Sunday, September 13, 2020

OPINION:

Game balls for Washington Football’s 27-17 upset win over the Philadelphia Eagles?

Riverboat Ron Rivera, of course. And yes, Crazy Jack Del Rio and the rest of this new Washington Football Team coaching staff.


Game balls for all.

This win — the first in the last seven games against the Eagles — was a reflection of the difference in coaching staff this year under Rivera and his staff compared to the Jay Gruden tenure, which always had the smell of a One Loudoun hangover.

“We set the tempo and showed we could play with the best team in the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles,” Rivera said.

It was, admittedly, a depleted defending NFC East champion, missing the services of three offensive line starters — tackles Lane Johnson and Andre Dillard and guard Brandon Brooks — and minus running back Miles Sanders.

But Philadelphia still managed to build an early 17-0 lead, which should have been enough of a cushion for quarterback Carson Wentz to manage his team the rest of the way for the win.

Instead, Wentz was a wreck in the face of the oncoming Washington defensive line that had eight sacks — including two by the reborn Ryan Kerrigan. That unit clearly unnerved Wentz, who started off 12 of 15 for 176 yards and two touchdowns but finished 24 of 42 for 270 yards and two interceptions.

We heard about the talent on this defensive line all last season — young players like Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen, rookie Montez Sweat and the veteran Kerrigan — but it didn’t translate to consistency.

Now — with the addition of Del Rio as defensive coordinator and No. 1 playmaker Chase Young — we saw what the rest of the league may be in for trying to stop this defensive front pressure that rented space in Wentz’s head for much of the afternoon.

“There are some good football players in that locker room who have not had the opportunity to express themselves as football players,” Rivera said.

That would appear to be a slight indictment of his predecessor.

It’s also a sign of a coach who understands what it is like to play the game in the NFL at the top level. Rivera spent nine seasons with the Chicago Bears at linebacker, including the 1985 Super Bowl championship team, and understands what it means for players to “express” themselves as football players.

Former Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who was a four-time All-Star second baseman and two-time World Series champion with the Baltimore Orioles, always used to use the phrase “let players express their talent.”

It’s an important connection between players and coaches, one that has helped Rivera win an NFC championship as head coach with the Carolina Panthers and win NFC Coach of the Year twice.

While the defense set the stage for the comeback win, second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins deserves credit for not folding and losing his composure when he was struggling early and his team was down 17-0. He took advantage of opportunities as the game went on and didn’t put his team in a hole — zero interceptions.

He also gave what Rivera called a “raucous” halftime speech to his team while the head coach was getting an IV as part of his treatment to battle squamous cell carcinoma.

Of course, it is so Washington Football Team-like that the team gets one of its biggest NFC East wins at Ghost Town Field since 2012 and there is no one in the stands to watch it. That’s on COVID-19, and there is little anyone can do about that.

However, it is also so Washington Football Team-like that any fan of intelligence has to stop once all the cheering has died down from Sunday’s win and realize that Dan Snyder is still the owner of this football team, and that nothing of substance will ever change until he is not the owner of this football team.

He is embroiled in a battle on numerous fronts — from the dozens of women who have made sexual harassment charges against his organization to the business partners that want a divorce from him. There are investigations and lawsuits and private detectives and you can be sure, as it always does, the aura of self destruction created by the owner will seep into the football organization and onto the football field.

In case you needed a reminder of the chaos, Snyder gave you one Sunday in the Wall Street Journal when he pretty much told the paper that he doesn’t really care what his team is called.

When asked via email about keeping the name, “Washington Football Team” for good, Snyder replied, “Sure, it’s possible.”

This from a guy who once made what sounded like a blood vow that he would never change the Redskins name. “We’ll never change the name,” he told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Now?

“If the Washington Football Team name catches on and our fans embrace it, then we would be happy to have it as our permanent name,” Snyder wrote to the Journal.

If he went by fan sentiment, I think “Sink Dan Snyder” would lap “Washington Football Team.’

Right now, though, it’s Rivera at the helm of the Good Ship Washington, with an impressive inaugural win that feels awfully good. Others have been there before.

Hear Thom Loverro Tuesdays and Thursdays on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast and Wednesday afternoons on Chad Dukes Vs. The World on 106.7 The Fan.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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