- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 2, 2022

LANDOVER — If the sight of Jalen Hurts walking off the grass of FedEx Field to the cheers of roaring Eagles fans was a little embarrassing for the home team, then what followed was just as bad, if not worse. As Hurts extended his arms for high fives, a cluster of Philadelphia fans spilled over the edge and the rest of the railing collapsed.

Hurts was nearly toppled before those who fell got up to take pictures with the Eagles quarterback.

“Crazy,” Hurts said. “Crazy stuff. That was a real dangerous situation.”

It wasn’t just enough for the Washington Football Team to lose 20-16 Sunday to a divisional rival — a loss that officially eliminated them from the playoffs. By now, as coach Ron Rivera is finding out the hard way, those losses can be magnified — made worse, even — by everything that happens off the field. They can come in the form of a punch on the sideline, as was the case last week, or in the form of a collapsed railing in a broken-down stadium for a broken-down franchise. 

Sunday was more than a winnable game for the Burgundy and Gold. Washington held a lead most of the afternoon, stifled a vaunted Eagles running game (118 yards on 34 carries) and had a chance to pull out a win until Taylor Heinicke’s end zone interception with 24 seconds left.  But the details hardly matter.

Instead, the focus will be on where the franchise goes from here — and how much work still needs to be done. Washington is 6-10, meaning the team now has more losses in Rivera’s second season at the helm than it did in his first year. After 16 games, with one left to play, Washington can no longer be considered a plucky team on the rise — last season’s Rivera-friendly narrative.

Now, they’re a group with major question marks. What will the team do at quarterback this offseason? Can the defense bounce back in 2022?  How many more viral moments can this team endure before they finally get things right? 

As Rivera stood at the lectern after the loss, he sighed when asked what he took away from a playoff-less season.

“Hopefully, we’re developing the character that you got to deal with when you have these types of situations and circumstances,” Rivera said. “The most important thing is how we finish. We’ve got one more game (against the New York Giants) left to go and hope we show up and do the things we’re supposed to do. … It’s that old saying, ‘You get knocked down, it’s the way that you get up is most important.’ So we’ll see.” 

In some ways, Sunday’s game was already about that message. After a humiliating 56-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Rivera told reporters he wanted to see how his team would respond. Rivera said he was pleased with the effort — the way players pushed the Eagles all afternoon and gave themselves a chance at the end. “That’s pretty much all you can ask for,” he said.

But even that ignored the larger point. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin fittingly wore a black sweatshirt that had the words “Driver Seat” etched onto the front. Following a four-game winning streak in November and early December, Washington was indeed in the driver’s seat when it began a pivotal five-game divisional stretch that would determine its playoff fate. 

Washington has now completed four of those five contests — losing all four. The reasons for the losses can be debated. The virus and injuries took a toll on the team’s roster, as did tragic events such as the murder of Montez Sweat’s brother and safety Deshazor Everett’s car crash. Perhaps this team just lacked the talent compared to a stacked Cowboys team, as well.

In any event, Washington won the NFC East in 2020 thanks to a strong 4-2 divisional record. A year later, the team is 1-4 in the division. Rivera‘s squad has now suffered two four-game losing streaks in one season.

“We just didn’t get it done,” McLaurin said. 

In the meantime, Washington has likely done little to win back the fans who have grown indifferent about the franchise. In what’s becoming a yearly tradition at this point, Sunday’s crowd at Washington’s stadium featured mostly Eagles fans decked out in white and green.  A chant of “E-A-G-L-E-S” broke out once safety Rodney McLeod picked off Heinicke late. 

Washington’s home slate is now finished. And despite some memorable on-the-field moments — namely the team’s upset over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the highlights were outnumbered, again, by missteps, gaffes and embarrassments in the stands and on and off the field. Think of the burst water pipe in Week 1. Sean Taylor’s retirement jersey celebration. The collapsed railing was just the latest debacle. 

A team spokesperson said in a statement that it was “aware of an incident in the North Field Tunnel” and opened an investigation into the matter, adding the team was “glad no one appears to have been seriously injured.” 

On social media, a clip of the collapse had already been viewed more than 3 million times. 

“It’s been a rough stretch,” Heinicke said. 

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

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