By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Through one month of the Ron Rivera era in Washington the crisis of leadership within the professional football franchise is no more. In a sign of unity with their coach, who is fighting a battle with cancer, the players and coach took the field wearing “Rivera Strong” sweats– in a regional rivalry game where they were the prohibitive underdog.
Facing his fate with the aggressiveness of the 1986 Chicago Bears defense that he played on, Rivera has restored credibility in the locker room and on the sideline that hasn’t been there since Joe Gibbs retired for the second time, while fighting skin cancer. After a 1-3 start, the culture of toughness, which the organization has lacked, is now on firm ground, despite an offense that remains well behind them and was again the culprit to the team’s ultimate demise last weekend.
”I had my moments where I felt pretty strong,” Rivera said. ”Other times I waned a little bit. ”
Dwayne Haskins got the dreaded vote of confidence from head coach Ron Rivera immediately after the Washington Football Team’s demise in Cleveland. However, with the Baltimore Ravens lurking, Haskins was put on notice that he could’ve been replaced by Kyle Allen if he didn’t perform better, according to multiple reports before kickoff.
The problems for Washington were not Haskins in the 31-17 loss to the defending AFC East Division champions. While he didn’t play well enough to win the offensive doldrums facing the burgundy and gold as the learning curve continues for a quarterback who consistently proves to be a work in progress.
On a day where Haskins would’ve had to play a near flawless game for Washington to have any chance at winning, he was anything but; he finished 32/45 for 314 yards with a rushing touchdown and was sacked three times. While Haskins didn’t cost them any turnovers, his inaccuracy and decision making continue to be a major problem that lacks direction.
The organization’s decision to release Adrian Peterson and rely on a trio of inexperienced running backs behind an offensive line that hasn’t produced the dividends they were expecting through the first month of the season, has only stunted his growth.
Statistically Haskins outplayed reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was a pedestrian 14/21 for 193 yards and a 51-yard touchdown run that was effectively the knockout blow late in the second quarter. However, if Washington is to be successful as their prodigy grows potentially into a franchise changing quarterback, Haskins shouldn’t be in a position to pass that many times in an offense that he has only made four NFL starts in, without benefit of a full offseason to develop with his first time offensive coordinator Scott Turner.
“There were four games last year where I let Scott work as [O.C.] in Charlotte and took a hard look at those films during the offseason,” Rivera said. “I’m starting to get a feel for what he’s trying to do and I like what I’m seeing so far.”
Haskins biggest mistake was taking a sack on first and goal in the third quarter after Kendall Fuller’s highlight reel caliber interception that gave Washington a chance to pull within a touchdown. After that gigantic miscue, they were never really in a position to win the game.
While Rivera struggles through the effects of chemotherapy, the team finds itself in the title chase by playing in the NFL’s worst division. There are signs he likes the way the defense is developing and they have given Washington a chance to stay in all four games this year. With a favorable October schedule – including the Rams, Giants and Cowboys – by Nov. 1, they could be a legitimate playoff contender, which could change the complexion of the season moving forward.
“Special situations call for certain decisions,” Rivera said.