I still don’t know how good of a coach Ron Rivera is. But as a leader — really, the part that counts the most for a head coach — he ranks among the best we’ve seen here in Washington, maybe since the glory days of Joe Gibbs.
Too much? Well, let’s look at what happened Sunday at a wet Ghost Town Field. While the other side of the building was creating another national embarrassment with its woeful “Sean Taylor Memorial Installation” before the game, Rivera’s Washington Commanders (7-5) fought to win a hard-nosed 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons for their sixth win in seven games, keeping their playoff push alive.
The difference between the fortunes on the field and the failures off of it for this franchise hasn’t been this wide for quite some time. It is an accomplishment worth noting, one that would drive Rivera crazy at times.
But, like Sunday’s win, he has managed to keep his team focused on what is important to them, what they can accomplish despite the broken business organization that has many times dragged everything — including football — down a black hole of despair.
“We try to get across, this is what we can be,” Rivera said, noting how his team has made the most of opportunities to win, even on the verge of losing, like when Atlanta was yards away from a go-ahead score with less than two minutes to play — before Kendall Fuller picked off a tipped pass in the end zone from Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota to seal the victory.
This was the classic NFL “trap” game for the Commanders, who were coming off two straight wins and were four-point favorites coming into this game. Atlanta, with a weak pass rush and the inability to score many points, was ripe for the picking.
It didn’t come that easy, as the Falcons surprisingly ran for 167 yards against what had been the Great Wall of Washington defensive front line of late.
But in the end, the Commanders’ defense held the Falcons to 13 points and the Washington offense ground out 19 points behind its own running attack — 176 yards, led by Brian Robinson’s 105 yards rushing — and two touchdown passes by Taylor Heinicke.
Heinicke has been under center for all five of their wins during this season turnaround that began 2-4 under $28 million quarterback Carson Wentz, perhaps the last vestige of franchise failure on the football side to be disposed of.
“There is a lot of negativity that they try to work past,” Rivera said, and he wasn’t talking about their game plans or tackling.
There aren’t many days when the negativity doesn’t seem to define this organization under its toxic owner, Skipper Dan the Sailing Man. The list is too long and tedious to go through yet again, and besides, if you wait a short while, there will be a new humiliation pop up — like a mannequin from a sporting goods store.
Sunday was supposed to be a day to honor the legacy of the great Sean Taylor on the 15th anniversary of his horrific shooting death while being robbed in his Miami home. If you remember, they tried to honor him last season, announcing the event to retire his No. 21 jersey on short notice and then overseeing a haphazard ceremony that included a photo of the Taylor family in front of a line of Port-A-Potties on Sean Taylor Road outside Ghost Town Field.
They had a year to get this one right, and they announced this in June. With the fanfare they gave it, fans expected something more significant — a statue, perhaps. Personally, I can think of a list of Washington legends who should come first when it comes to putting up statues to honor their legacy — Bobby Mitchell comes to mind. But for a generation of fans, Taylor and what could have been is perhaps the only moment in their hearts not tarnished by the crassness of the owner and his dysfunctional franchise.
To put it mildly, though, what they got was just more disappointment — a wire mannequin of sorts, with a Nike No. 21 jersey (Taylor wore a Reebok jersey back in his time) and soccer cleats with “World Cup” written on them.
It looked like something an intern could have put together in an afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
There was another legacy moment Sunday at Ghost Town Field — former Redskins defensive end Tony McGee was in the house. He was part of the early days of the Joe Gibbs era and a member of that 1982 Super Bowl team. He played three seasons in Washington and had 21 sacks.
He was in the locker room after the game, and I walked up to Montez Sweat, who had a monster game. “See that guy over there,” I said to him. “That’s Tony McGee. He used to play for this team. He played 14 seasons in the league and had 103 sacks.”
Sweat’s eyes lit up and he said, “The 100-sack club? I’ve got to go meet him.” He walked over and introduced himself to McGee, telling him it was an honor to meet him. “I hope some of that (100 sacks) rubs off on me,” Sweat said as he shook McGee’s hand.
As far as legacy moments, I think it meant more than whatever the dark side of the building was trying to accomplish Sunday — the side Ron Rivera may have finally managed to wall off.
Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.