Even by Washington football standards, the 2022 season has been a nauseating roller coaster ride.
The Commanders went from one of the worst teams in the NFL to the hottest team in the league to winless in their most crucial stretch of the season. And Ron Rivera deserves credit for all of it.
There’s no sugarcoating this: Rivera botched the quarterback decision. I said from the beginning Carson Wentz was a terrible idea, and any doubt of that fact was removed with his putrid 31.4 passer rating in the season-ending (for all intents and purposes) loss to the Cleveland Browns that Rivera seemingly wasn’t aware was an actual elimination game.
#Commanders HC Ron Rivera found out during his postgame press conference that they could be eliminated from playoff contention in a few hours.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) January 1, 2023
And I lay this Wentz disaster at Rivera’s feet because he told me to. Remember back in October, when amid rumors that embattled (and, hopefully, soon-outgoing) owner Dan Snyder was the catalyst for the trade for Wentz, Rivera emphatically took credit for the acquisition of his then 2-4 quarterback?
“I’m the f—ing guy that pulled out the sheets of paper, that looked at the analytics, that watched the tape. … OK? And that’s what pisses me off, because the young man doesn’t deserve to have that all the time,” Rivera said following the Commanders’ Week 6 win in Chicago.
Assuming that’s true, Ron, this lost season is on you. The loss to the Browns was Washington’s fifth straight game scoring 20 or fewer points and the Commanders have topped 30 points only once this season. So Taylor Heinicke, no matter how much fans and teammates alike love the guy, isn’t much better.
But the results have been. Football is a game of inches and for whatever reason, Heinicke has been worth a few more for Washington. While No. 4 is guilty of tossing up those frustrating ‘YOLO’ balls, all three of Wentz’s interceptions Sunday were ‘IDGAF’ balls. For all the former Panthers Rivera’s stubbornly imported to Washington, why is he more loyal to the outsider Wentz than to the undrafted kid he found in Carolina?
Which begs my question throughout the Rivera era: If he can so boldly bring in broken down former Panthers like Thomas Davis and Trai Turner, why can’t Cam Newton even merit a workout? If you’re going to gamble that someone will resuscitate their career and become a solid short-term option at QB, Newton — who played in this exact offense at an MVP level — is a better bet than Ryan Fitzpatrick or Wentz, especially after seeing how Geno Smith just put together a season worthy of Comeback Player of the Year.
And speaking of Turner, Rivera’s dismantling of one of the best offensive lines in the league is as egregious as his inability to properly assess a quarterback. He inherited All-Pros Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Now his best blocker is … Charles Leno?
By all accounts, Rivera is a good man. Lord knows his stewardship during the COVID-altered 2020 season and all the various controversies stemming from the owner’s box has been vital to Washington being even a competitive football team.
But Rivera the de facto general manager has undermined Rivera the head coach at every turn – and the latter has always had a questionable track record.
Washington’s 7-8-1 mark ensures Rivera will have his ninth non-winning season out of his 12 as a head coach. To paraphrase what I said when Rivera was hired: Without his 15-1 Super Bowl season in 2015, Rivera is 82-89-2 with only one playoff win. Even with it, the most notable thing about him is being the only coach to win multiple division titles with a losing record.
Rivera was the perfect man to usher Washington out of its era of controversy, delivering a steady and respectable hand and turning the most hated franchise in sports into a likeable underdog outfit. And that will likely earn him a fourth season coaching the Commanders while, presumably, ownership changes hands at some point in 2023.
But the 2022 season proves Rivera is who he is – a good leader and fine defensive mind incapable of gathering the necessary tools on offense (especially at offensive coordinator and quarterback) to win in the modern NFL.
And Washington can’t get off the treadmill of mediocrity with Rivera at the helm – in any capacity.