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Tuesday, October 11, 2022

OPINION:

What was funny about the latest predicament that Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera found himself embroiled in — and, let’s face it, this franchise is a Don Rickles stand-up routine 24/7 — was that it didn’t happen as a result of one of his wordy, drawn-out answers to a press conference question.

It happened because he gave a one-word answer:


“Quarterback.”

He might as well have stood up in a movie theater and shouted fire.

Following Sunday’s 21-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, leaving his team with a 1-4 record, Rivera met with the media Monday and, when asked by Washington Times sportswriter Matt Paras why the team’s rivals — the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants — are farther ahead with their rebuilds at this point, he responded abruptly, like this:

“Quarterback.”

Rivera tried to explain it further in a follow-up and has since been trying to explain it to the quarterback, Carson Wentz, his team, and the rest of the world.

But it really didn’t matter what he said after that. The damage was done.

Given the baggage that Wentz brought with him from Indianapolis and Philadelphia, and the kid gloves they’ve used in Washington to handle their fragile quarterback since he arrived, you have to wonder what the coach was thinking — or if he was thinking at all — when he answered that question with “Quarterback.”

Rivera tried to elaborate in his explanation about the 4-1 Cowboys having backup Cooper Rush behind center. “They started with [QB] Dak [Prescott],” he said. “They build around Dak and the offense is built around Dak. Their back up is a guy that is very solid inside of what they do. The truth is that this is a quarterback-driven league and if you look at the teams that have been able to sustain success, they’ve been able to build it around a specific quarterback.”

No one was listening.

Rivera then tried to mitigate the damage by getting his media mouthpieces like Ian Rapoport and Booger McFarland to try to cover for the coach and clarify his thinking Monday night. 

Then he used his appearance on 100.3 FM radio Tuesday morning to try to dig his way out of the hole he found himself in. “I talked to Carson this morning,” he said. “In fact, I talked to the whole team. I had a mea culpa moment and that I should know better. I created a little bit of distraction and that’s one thing I try not to do and it’s one thing I am very aware of. Again, it’s one of those things that when you misstep, people can’t wait to dive onto it and jump onto it and hold onto it without an opportunity to explain yourself. So hey, that’s on me. I should have known better.”

Former Washington quarterback and NFL analyst Alex Smith, who had a bitter parting with Rivera when he was released in March 2021, was one of those people who couldn’t “wait to dive onto it.”

During ESPN’s pregame broadcast ahead of “Monday Night Football”, Smith said, “I’m not going to lie, I had a really hard time watching that. When I heard it, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not here to defend Carson Wentz, he’s had a tumultuous career with ups and downs. But this is a defensive head coach that is absolutely driving the bus over his quarterback … the blame has got to be spread around. This is a team sport, it is the ultimate team sport, and how a head coach can stand up there in front of the media and usher one word, and it’s ‘quarterback.’”

Can you imagine what Wentz must have thought to have Alex Smith talking about his head coach “driving the bus” over him? Smith was respected and revered everyplace he played in his 14-year NFL career. He was the poster boy for overcoming adversity for his return to the field in Washington in 2020 after his horrific broken leg in 2018.

He is everything that Wentz is not. And here he was, talking about how Wentz’s head coach publicly ridiculed him.

Wentz arrived here radioactive, with troubling questions trailing him about heart, character and leadership. 

He was damaged goods, so much so that team President Jason Wright felt obliged to defend Wentz and try to humiliate ABC 7 reporter Scott Abraham for asking hard but legitimate questions about Wentz being shipped out of Philadelphia and Indianapolis during an August interview.

“Thankfully, Carson demonstrated grace and class in response to this pompous, unprofessional mess,” Wright tweeted at the time. “I recognize you have made a living on childlike provocation, but it needs to be called out.”

What Rivera said has proved to be far more damaging than whatever perceived slight Abraham made toward the quarterback. Since Wright felt the need to come to Wentz’s aid, will he now take Rivera to task for his “Quarterback” answer, which was far more disrespectful?

Rivera is clearly feeling the pressure of failing to live up to the expectations he presented when he described his third season here as the one where this team was expected to take a step forward. He keeps moving that goalpost. Here’s what you will never hear from Rivera. It was a Jim Zorn favorite: “I feel like the worst coach in America.”

We all laughed at that in 2008. But Zorn went on to say that the players “risk a lot. They put out tremendous effort, tremendous emotion to go out and play … I have a hard time looking at the talent and just saying that’s the problem and moving on. I have to look at myself.”

But when you are asked for reasons for your failures, and you are not willing to fully point the finger at yourself — whether you believe it or not — you grasp for reasons. Ron Rivera put his hand firmly around Carson Wentz’s neck.

Know this — Pee Wee Herman could have been the starting quarterback and arrived yesterday, and you never would have heard the answer, “Quarterback” if Joe Gibbs had been asked that question.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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


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