LANDOVER, Md. — The collapse all but complete, Josh Harris should put Ron Rivera out of his misery after the Washington Commanders’ soon-to-be shellacking by the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving afternoon just outside of Dallas. Or after the Commanders’ closer-than-expected loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving afternoon just outside of Dallas. Or after the Commanders’ upset win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving afternoon just outside of Dallas. It no longer matters what happens just outside of Dallas.
Harris should thank Rivera for trying to reset what had been a lackadaisical culture under Jay Gruden for keeping Washington competitive through COVID-19 and through some truly unfortunate injuries (not that every team doesn’t go through injuries), and for making the on-field product palatable through most of the end of Dan Snyder’s reign. He should thank him, and the front office, for helping get the team’s financial books set for a potential significant free-agent outlay this coming offseason, and for biting the bullet now to put a deposit toward the future with the trades of Chase Young and Montez Sweat — which will give Washington a real chance to fortify the team quickly, with five picks in the top 100 of next year’s draft.
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Most importantly, Harris should thank Rivera for taking Sam Howell in the fifth round of the 2022 draft and giving a beleaguered fan base some real hope for the first time in a generation that Washington has its quarterback of the future.
But this has to end. It’s time for this franchise to move on.
This is written with no joy or talk-radio anger. It’s math. The Commanders are 4-7 after getting swept in the regular season, again, by the New York Giants, after Sunday’s 31-19 loss at FedEx. They still have to play the Cowboys twice, and the Miami Dolphins, and the San Francisco 49ers. There’s not going to be a late-season Rivera Run this year, which means Washington will almost certainly finish with a fourth straight non-winning season under its head coach. Thus, there’s no rationale for keeping him on the sideline any longer than necessary.
Rivera is deep into his tenure here, and the same things keep happening that have always happened when his team has a chance to take a step forward. More explosive plays allowed by one of the league’s worst defenses; more turnovers and sacks allowed by an offense that never can get the ball to its best players nearly often enough. Most damning: more inexplicable performances against subpar opponents. On Sunday, Howell threw three interceptions against a beat-up New York defense, Logan Thomas and Chris Rodriguez killed two more drives with fumbles, and Byron Pringle fumbled at the end of his kickoff return to start the second half.
On the other side of the field, Tommy DeVito, the Giants’ third-string quarterback, surely got beat up, taking nine sacks. He also went 18 of 26 for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and left town with a 137.7 rating.
Sack number EIGHT
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) November 19, 2023
The lack of running water in both Washington’s and New York’s locker rooms was a ridiculously apt metaphor for how aground the Commanders have run, and the changes that have to be made.
“It goes back and forth,” Jonathan Allen said. “One game the offense will play good, the next game the defense will play good. Until we play together, this result, that’s what’s going to keep happening. It sucks. Don’t really have too much to say.”
Washington plays again in 96 hours. It will fly to Dallas on Wednesday. There’s just not enough time for a coaching change before the Turkey Day extravaganza. So wait until the team gets back from Texas, with a mini-bye week in the offing, and do what needs to be done. Because the Commanders have to get started as soon as possible to find out whatever they’re going to be next, and they have to be able to go after whomever they think best reflects that vision of ownership. And the tentacles to top assistant coaches around the league have to start being extended as soon as possible.
You may want to make the change this very second, after Sunday, when the home team’s offense and special teams committed almost as many turnovers (six) as its defense had quarterback sacks. (If there isn’t a more Commanders stat than that, man.) The last turnover came as Howell, trying to lead a miracle, winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes, came under pressure and tried to throw the ball out of bounds. Except he only got the ball as far as the hands of Giants linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who intercepted it and returned the pick 54 yards down the sideline for the final score.
“The most frustrating part is I think we have a really good football team,” Howell said. “We have so much potential in that locker room. That’s the disappointing thing, is that we’re not getting the results that we feel we’re definitely capable of … it’s definitely not where we thought we would be. We know we’re a better team than what we’ve shown this year.”
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But that’s just it. The Commanders aren’t a good team. They have talent on both sides of the ball. But it isn’t showing on Sundays, not nearly enough.
Whether the players aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, or the coaches aren’t putting them in the best positions to succeed, the Commanders have never come close to playing 60 minutes of complementary football with regularity this season. It is astounding that this team has lost twice to a Giants team that was quarterbacked, respectively, by Tyrod Taylor and DeVito. It is ridiculous that this team got smacked around its home field by the woebegone Chicago Bears.
Rivera insisted his team was ready to play Sunday. On its fourth offensive snap, Howell threw a no-chancer to Dyami Brown into coverage that was picked off by cornerback Nick McCloud. Halfway through the first quarter, Saquon Barkley beat Jamin Davis for a 24-yard touchdown catch. Yes, the defense held Barkley in check on the ground most of the day. They it got gashed by him on second-half runs of 36 and 31 yards. The Commanders also gave up a 40-yard score from DeVito to a wide-open Darius Slayton on another blown coverage.
I asked Rivera afterward if someone needs to get benched as a result of still more defensive dysfunction.
“There’s things we have to look at, just continue to discuss it, and go from there,” Rivera said.
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Owners are generally reluctant to make in-season changes, mostly because they never work. (There is also the matter of bumping up an assistant coach from the existing staff to the head coach spot, which almost always means an in-season bump in salary for the new boss.) But no one should expect any late-season run. This is about just ending this season as quickly as possible and moving on to the next one. And — I mean this — thanking Rivera for the work he’s done here. It was hard and necessary. But it’s time to turn the page.
An hour after the game, in the empty stadium, the public address system suddenly came alive, with — I swear — the theme from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” playing as a message played over the music over and over: First and 10 at the 44 … first and 10 at the 44 … first and 10 at the 44 … first and 10 at the 44 …
The metaphors of failure flowed through FedEx, as the hot water didn’t.
(Top photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)