Winning is said to cure everything, but that may not be true for the Commanders

Winning is said to cure all, but is that true for the Commanders? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Washington’s first touchdown in the team’s Week 7 win over Green Bay required nifty body control from Antonio Gibson, who had to snare Taylor Heinicke’s pass and keep himself inbounds in the back of the end zone for the score to count.

Commanders fans will have to pull off a similarly-challenging balancing act while rooting for the squad in the near future.

That’s because, if the presently Heinicke-led outfit is able to string together more victories and remain in Wild Card contention, then the bigger picture involving the organization will grow murkier. Whatever joy comes from the (still purely hypothetical) immediate success would likely have interesting, and perhaps not positive, implications.

Think back to the lead-up to Washington’s Week 6 trip to Chicago.

Before that matchup, Ron Rivera held a press conference in which he shirked responsibility for failing to keep up with the rest of the NFC East. That session with the media came in the midst of a four-game losing streak where Rivera’s bunch repeatedly looked listless in the first half of their appearances and were committing penalties and making mistakes in critical moments, two flaws that are often associated with a poorly-coached crew. 

Back then — with the “then” representing a mere two weeks ago — Rivera’s seat was hotter than a sriracha-jalapeño smoothie. His claims that he couldn’t turn the club around “overnight” were tiresome and his solutions for the slump were nowhere to be found.

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Much of the distaste for where the Commanders stood before the Bears tilt was because of how Carson Wentz was playing, of course. The quarterback whom Rivera was adamant about personally targeting this offseason, and who was viewed as a definite upgrade compared to Heinicke, was mostly struggling behind an offensive line that wasn’t constructed all that well. 

So — and this cannot be stressed enough — Washington was at a point earlier this month where it was led by a floundering head coach and featuring a pricey signal-caller who was delivering cheap results. 

Strictly on the field — the away-from-the-stadium drama, meanwhile, carried on as usual — there was an argument to be made that the Commanders were one of the two or three worst teams in the sport. One more loss and a full-on crumbling could’ve occurred. 

But after a “triumph” at Solider Field that necessitates the use of quotation marks and a fairly-encouraging edging-out of the Packers, there’s suddenly a hint of optimism — or at least general intrigue — about what the rest of 2022 holds.

With Wentz out of the lineup and Heinicke in it, plus a defense that’s been capable since Week 3, maybe November and December will be about competing instead of scanning mock drafts.

And that’s where complications arise.

In the event that Washington, at a minimum, plays respectably the rest of the way, Rivera’s job will probably be secure for 2023.

Yes, his ability to preserve the focus of a locker room is undoubtedly a strength, yet he’s started 2-7, 2-6 and 1-4 in his three campaigns in charge and his depth chart doesn’t scare the NFL’s elite. It’s not like he’s lapping his many sideline predecessors.

Not only that, but Rivera would retain his power over the personnel.

The Wentz trade, the signing of William Jackson III, the odd dedication to bringing in former Panthers — he’s been responsible for all of those moves. No one’s fully figured out that aspect of football, but does he deserve extra chances as the main decision-maker?

In addition, Heinicke sparking a resurgence would make for a purely awesome story — and simultaneously do little to help the franchise’s long-term quarterback problem.

Barring a jarring adjustment in the trajectory of his career, Heinicke is ultimately best as a backup, while Wentz is trending toward donning another uniform next year. Sam Howell is the lone thrower with potential upside, but scratching off that fifth-round lottery ticket in hopes of cashing out is not really a viable strategy.

Now, an unknown but surely sizable section of Commanders supporters will prefer to push these thoughts away if a turnaround occurs (a loss this weekend in Indianapolis will make this entire story irrelevant, by the way) because cheering for Heinicke and Terry McLaurin and Kam Curl and Daron Payne is fun and pondering such layered outcomes isn’t. Those people will not be faulted; the league is meant to be consumed in a week-to-week fashion.

However, like so much else related to Washington’s existence, this isn’t exactly straightforward. The idea of battling for a Wild Card berth ought to be a purely exciting notion, but in this instance, doing so might inhibit legitimate growth. 

After five weeks, the Commanders were heading in the unenviable direction of needing full-scale changes. Progress under Rivera was essentially invisible and the issues with his rebuild were glaring.

Two weeks later, the angst about 2022 has largely chilled out. That, though, may be a tangly development in its own right.

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