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Monday, January 2, 2023

OPINION:

It should go without saying that when this season ends, Ron Rivera should never coach another game for the Washington Commanders, or whatever the new owner will call this team once he — or she (wouldn’t that be justice?) — comes in and flushes everything in the building down the drain.

You would hope that any new owner already has Sean Payton on speed dial, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 


Skipper Dan the Sailing Man has to actually sell the team, something the Burgundy and Gold faithful ask the football gods for every day, along with their prayer that Carson Wentz has seen his last start as the Commanders’ quarterback.

Rivera may be a wonderful man loved by his players — though their lackluster play offers little evidence of that. But Rivera lost a game with playoff implications 24-10 at Ghost Town Field on Sunday to a bad Cleveland Browns (6-9) team that had nothing to play for. That should be a fireable offense. It should be in the NFL bylaws.

The new owner should not waste any more time, no matter when he — or she — takes over. If Rivera can’t coach a team looking to get into the playoffs to a win against a weaker opponent with nothing at stake, then it’s time for a one-way plane ticket home.

Of course, if Skipper Dan remains the owner, it won’t matter if Pee Wee Herman is the coach.

If you need another reason, how about Rivera’s stunning mismanagement of the most important position on the team — the quarterback.

“That’s the one position we’ve got to solidify more than anything else,” Rivera told reporters Monday. 

Rivera has proven he’s not the guy to do that. 

If Rivera was the driving force behind the trade with Indianapolis for Wentzhe insists he was, remember — then he isn’t capable of overseeing the quarterback position, which in today’s NFL, means mapping out the future of your team.

If Rivera was the one who decided to trade three draft picks to the Colts for Wentz — who had become too toxic on and off the field for two NFL franchises — and then pay him $28 million, then he isn’t capable of leading a football organization.

And if the opposite happened — if Rivera was just the latest Washington coach to sit back and let a meddlesome owner pick the team’s quarterback, as ESPN suggested in October — then it’s time to find a coach with some backbone. 

Circumstances nearly saved Rivera this season. After a dismal 2-4 start under Wentz — six games that seem to check nearly every negative box on the quarterback’s failing resume — a broken finger sidelined the starter and left an opening for the quarterback who stepped in for Washington in 2021, Taylor Heinicke.

The Commanders’ backup went 5-1 in their next six games before the 20-20 tie against the New York Giants. Two weeks later, Heinicke lost to the Giants again, 20-12. And then, despite his best numbers (13 for 18, 166 yards, two touchdowns) against the San Francisco 49ers, he threw one interception, fumbled twice and then Wentz appeared in the fourth quarter. And just like that, Wentz was back as the starter, despite Rivera’s hollow claims that he had his quarterback’s back. 

“One thing that I’ve always done is whoever the starter is, I’m going to commit to them fully because I don’t want them looking over the shoulder,” Rivera said.

If anyone thought it was a good idea to bench Heinicke and start Wentz against Cleveland, then he is a dope. Not just a regular dope, but a special one who should be on display in the Dope Museum. To have judged Heinicke’s chances of success against a bad team like the Browns, based on his performance against two playoff teams, one of which, the 49ers, is likely a Super Bowl contender, was foolish and ill-informed.

Rivera told reporters Monday, “Being 0-2-1 in the last three games really pushed me.”

Foolish and ill-informed.

If you couldn’t see the meltdown coming — and it was an epic Wentz meltdown (three interceptions, three sacks, zero touchdown passes and 10 points) — then you’re not capable of being a quality control coach, let alone a head coach in the NFL.

The Browns’ defenders saw it coming. They were giddy when they learned they would be facing Wentz instead of Heinicke. They knew what the rest of the league knew, what anybody who had seen Wentz in the past two years knew

“Once we get him rattled in the pocket, it’s over,” Cleveland defensive end Jadeveon Clowney told reporters at the game. “Coming in, we said, ‘If we can get him rattled, we can get some turnovers out of him.’ Like, we knew that.”

Who didn’t know that? Rivera, apparently.

“If you know football, you know (Wentz) has a slow release, and you know Heinicke gets the ball out fast,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “Some of the guys I know on the team, they would’ve preferred Heinicke because they know he gets the ball out. You can see it on film, too, though. They play different with each quarterback.”

The decision to sit Heinicke in favor of Wentz — with the playoffs at stake, no less — is reason enough to fire Rivera. But add to that the bizarre postgame comments, in which Rivera seemed surprised that because of the loss to the Browns, his team faced playoff elimination if the Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings later that day, which is what happened.

“We could be eliminated?” Rivera responded, seemingly surprised, to a question about the implications of the loss to Cleveland.

You can fill in your response here. I can’t do all the work. 

Now they are facing a season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, who will be playing for the NFC East title, in a Ghost Town Field filled with Cowboys fans on the day they plan on retiring the great Sonny Jurgensen’s jersey — possibly with rookie fifth-round draft pick Sam Howell starting. 

“We’re going to continue to evaluate. … I’m meeting with coaches later today and we’ll discuss all those things as a group, and then I’ll make a decision when it’s time and appropriate,” Rivera said Monday. 

Rivera has done an admirable job of keeping the organizational chaos away from the football field. But the results have not been “appropriate “ — 21 wins to date in his three years on the job. 

“I’m here to be judged on that, OK?” Rivera said at the start of the 2022 Commanders training camp. “The judgment starts with winning or losing.”

I know what’s appropriate next. 

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show.

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


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