- The Washington Times
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ron Rivera might need a new metaphor to motivate his team if Washington’s win streak continues. After all, trotting out “David vs. Goliath” may not work as well at, say, six wins in a row rather than the current total of three.

Then again, his players have more than embraced the message. 

“David became king, right?” tight end Logan Thomas said after Monday’s 17-15 win over the Seattle Seahawks. 

Rivera said Tuesday he plans to keep hammering home the “David vs Goliath” motif because  players have “bought into it.” The Washington coach told reporters the message has been a “very viable thing” for the Burgundy and Gold, which has adopted an underdog mentality to overcome a 2-6 start. 

But at 5-6, that’s not the only change that Rivera has seen in players lately. After spending the first half of the year preaching about maturity — and the need for his team to handle last season’s success the right way — Rivera said he’s starting to see players understand what’s required of them. 

“We’re getting to the point where the things they are supposed to do are the things they want to do,” Rivera said. “They’ve been practicing the right way they need to practice. They’ve been playing the way you need to play, and they’re doing it because they want to do it. When that starts to happen, you can sit there and say, ‘Wow, we’re starting to see a maturity.’”

Washington, of course, went on a similar late-season surge last year to sneak into the playoffs. But Rivera said he believes there are differences among this year’s group. For one, he said, this year’s group is older and more experienced — with many players flat out better than they were in 2020. 

There’s arguably more talent on this roster, too. Washington’s front office spent resources in the offseason intended on upgrading many positions and those moves are starting to finally pay dividends more than midway through the season. The best example is on the offensive line — a unit that has been hit hard with injuries, but has still been able to establish a physical presence. 

The strength of the offensive length has helped spur a blossoming rushing attack. Washington ran for 152 yards against the Seahawks and has topped 100 yards rushing in four of the last five games. Tackle Charles Leno, brought in a one-year deal, has been effective as an anchor on the left side of the line.

“The confidence in that (offensive line) room is at an all-time high,” quarterback Taylor Heinicke said. “If it is not broke, don’t fix it. We gotta keep running the ball, and those guys are doing a great job.”

Rivera praised the resiliency of this year’s team, as well. He called the team’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a “foundational win,” comparing it to last season’s upset over the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. The latter showed Washington that it could compete among the NFL’s best and helped the team gain confidence down the stretch.

Like it did in 2020, the narrative about Washington is starting to shift. The NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said on Tuesday’s “Good Morning Football” that he wouldn’t “want to play” the Burgundy and Gold at the moment if he were on an opposing team. Analyst Brian Baldinger tweeted he “can’t wait to watch” Washington in Sunday’s game at Las Vegas. ESPN’s Louis Riddick said Washington “has the right DNA” to “do some damage.”

Such is the week-to-week nature of the NFL. It wasn’t that long ago when Rivera fielded questions whether he would fire defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio or make other staff changes. 

Since Week 10 — when Washington’s win streak began — the Burgundy and Gold’s defense has allowed the 11th-fewest yards in the league and the 13th-fewest points, according to Pro Football Reference. The most glaring difference in that span is on third-down stops: Washington is holding teams to a 32.3% conversion rate (eighth) over the last three weeks compared to 56.5% over the first nine. 

“These guys are starting to understand what we’re looking for, what we need,” Rivera said. “And I really do appreciate who they’ve become.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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