When head coach Ron Rivera first began coaching the Carolina Panthers, he admitted that his teams did not know how to win close games. He estimated that his record was 3-13 in games decided by six or seven points or less.
"Shoot, if I go back and look at it, there were a number of opportunities that instead of kicking a field goal or having gone for it on fourth down and converted, we would've taken the knee and won the game," Rivera said Thursday, three days before his first game as the head coach of the Washington Football Team. "So, it's about understanding and knowing what we had to do. I learned from those two years of really just gut-wrenching losses. Knowing going forward this is what I'm doing, that's kind of where the whole nickname 'Riverboat Ron' came from."
"Riverboat Ron" was back at it again midway through the fourth quarter Sunday against Philadelphia. Facing a 4th-and-1 on the Eagles' four-yard line, Washington could have settled for a field goal that would have given them a 20-17 advantage. Instead, the offense stayed on the field, Dwayne Haskins Jr. pitched the ball to Peyton Barber and Barber picked up just enough to keep the drive alive.
Two plays later, Barber rumbled into the end zone for the go-ahead three-yard touchdown that helped Washington complete its largest-ever comeback against its division rivals, 27-17.
"I did that because I wanted the guys to know that I believed in them," Rivera said afterwards about the fourth-down try.
Barber's score capped a 13-play, 48-yard drive that included multiple 3rd-and-long conversions from Haskins, who after starting the game 3-for-12 completed 14 of his final 19 passes. He threw for 178 yards and a touchdown while adding 22 yards on the ground.
As Haskins struggled early on in the team's regular season opener, Philadelphia jumped out to a 17-0 advantage by attacking the linebackers and secondary. The Eagles scored on their first drive on a five-yard pass from Carson Wentz to tight end Zach Ertz. On their next drive, a 55-yard completion to rookie Jalen Reagor on 3rd-and-22 set up a manageable field goal.
Midway through the second quarter, the Eagles padded their lead when Wentz lofted a perfect pass into the arms of tight end Dallas Goedert with two defenders in pursuit. He ran untouched into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown.
But towards the end of the first half, Fabian Moreau sparked Washington with an interception. A few plays later, Haskins hit Logan Thomas for his first touchdown of the season, pulling the team within 17-7 at the break.
Aside from a few offsides penalties, Washington's defensive line was stellar Sunday, bringing down Wentz seven times. Leading the way was 10th-year pro Ryan Kerrigan, who with two sacks Sunday became the franchise's official all-time sack leader with 92 career sacks. It was the defensive line and the secondary that kept Washington close while the offense found its rhythm.