Before the distance grows too far from the 2021 Washington Football season and people say nice things about it — character, right direction, all the words we’ve heard before at so many other season closures — let’s do an inventory.
First, let me congratulate Taylor Heinicke on one of the best seasons a Washington Football quarterback has had this century. Yes, that’s right. Few who have stood under center for this franchise have thrown as many touchdown passes as Heinicke did this year — in fact only two others.
Kirk Cousins, of course — the despised Kirk Cousins — had seasons from 2015 to 2017 where he threw 29, 25 and 27 touchdown passes. Other than that, it’s Mark Brunell’s 23 scores in 2005.
Then it’s Heinicke with his 20 touchdowns (in 15½ games, mind you), along with Robert Griffin’s 20 in 2012 and Jason Campbell’s 20 in 2009. That’s the 21st-century list of top Washington quarterbacks — the best of owner Dan Snyder.
Yet here we are, talking about replacing one of the most productive scoring machines we’ve seen in a Washington uniform in the last 22 years. They should, of course. But it is part of the disease of this organization. They had a quarterback this year who turned in one of the top five performances of the century, yet nothing had changed over that time. So, as in nearly every year since Snyder has owned the team, they are looking for someone better.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to figure out to be honest with you,” coach Ron Rivera said last week. “So, yeah. Is there a sense of urgency? I think there always is just because that’s the most important position on your team … It is something that we want to get right.”
Rivera said there are options at the position coming up in free agency — and if that doesn’t happen, his guys have been “scouring the college football scene and have come up with some names that we’ll be looking at.”
The road ahead for Washington is a well-traveled one. Lots of wrecks strewn along the way. This time, it’s Rivera behind the wheel.
He seems competent enough, but among those coaches under Snyder who have been here before Rivera, why are we to believe that this time there will be a different result?
Rivera has seven wins in each of his two seasons. A 14-19 overall record. Unlike Heinicke, Rivera doesn’t rank very high among Washington football coaches this century. In fact, there is only one coach — Steve Spurrier, who went 7-9 his first season in 2002 — who hasn’t won more than seven games in at least one season here. Even Jim Zorn went 8-8 his first year.
The point is that in the NFL, back-to-back seven-win seasons are not typically cause for optimism — if results matter.
“I know expectations will be high,” Rivera said. “I know people will say, ‘Well, it’s your third season. This is what happens in the third season.’ And, again, I get it. At the end of the day, we have some holes that we want to fill. We have some players we want to make sure are the right kind of guys that are going to be out on the football field. But that’s all part of the process I believe in.”
At this point, results should be all that matter. Culture change, the “process” are all blob-like synonyms for Snyder and the aura of self-destruction that engulfs this organization.
Does anyone believe any of that has changed, or is going in the right direction?
A reporter asked Rivera to talk about the “mentality” after their unimpressive 22-7 win against an embarrassing New York Giants team Sunday. After all, they had been through a long season — 17 games, which I assume everyone else in the NFL has been through as well.
“Well, you know the biggest thing learned more so than anything else is really just the resilience of these young men,” Rivera said. “Again, as I said, this is a very difficult time, not just for football players but for society itself. You’re going to have problems.”
Ah, COVID-19. I believe we are primarily talking about the virus, and how Rivera’s team was decimated by it over the last several weeks.
It is interesting that last season, the Washington Football Team was considered a model for virus protection in the league. At the time, Rivera credited head trainer Ryan Vermillion — Rivera’s first hire in Washington, coming from their time together in Carolina. “It speaks for what Ryan Vermillion is doing as our infectious control officer in terms of trying to make sure everyone’s aware and everyone’s being careful and following the protocols,” he told reporters.
Of course, Vermillion disappeared from the building in October, along with assistant trainer Doug Quon. Both were placed on administrative leave after it was reported that Vermillion was the subject of a DEA investigation, which included a search of the team’s training complex. For the rest of the season, the team was without its highly-touted infectious control officer.
These are not typical NFL problems. These are Washington Football Team problems, and there are so many more — the congressional investigation into the sexual harassment probe cover-up, the Sean Taylor ceremony debacle, Ghost Town Field falling apart, putting opposing players at risk, and on and on.
“Finding inventory in the backroom is not always a joy,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon once said.
In Washington, it’s an annual exercise in torment.
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.