The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera.
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Kendall Fuller was standing on the field at MetLife Stadium when New York Giants receiver Golden Tate approached him. He wanted to know the same thing fans were waiting to find out: Did Fuller manage to stay in bounds on his interception in the end zone?
Admittedly, Fuller himself didn't even know. It was a little iffy, he said after the game, as the replay showed his forearm touch the ground before rolling out of bounds. "Let me just pray to God real quick," he responded.
Fuller's prayers were answered when the referee eventually ruled that the play would stand as called, giving him his fourth interception of the year and tying him with Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard for the most in the league. Fuller has only played in four games, but that's all he's needed to prove he is one of the NFL's best defensive backs this season.
"He's a guy, with his skillset, we have to put him in position to make plays," head coach Ron Rivera said after Washington's 20-19 loss to the Giants.
Fuller, who rejoined the team after spending the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, has a coverage grade of 86.2, according to Pro Football Focus, which is the third-highest among all cornerbacks. His interception during Sunday's game also tied a career-high he reached in 2017 -- his last season in Washington before being sent to the Chiefs in a trade package for Alex Smith -- when he had 10 pass breakups and 55 tackles.
While he is listed as a cornerback, Fuller's talent expands beyond one position. His ability to play in multiple spots gives him so much value to Rivera and his staff in Washington. He has also spent some time at free safety, and that experience came in handy against the Giants, as he rotated with Deshazor Everett at the position in certain situations.
"What you saw was an opportunity for us to bring in an extra DB [and] take a linebacker out," Rivera said on the play that resulted in Fuller's interception. "So we had an extra DB for coverage [and] put probably our best guy, who plays with vision, back at the safety position...and obviously it paid off for us."
The play was the latest example of why Rivera and Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith decided to bring Fuller back to Washington, but Fuller doesn't plan on taking time to congratulate himself.
"You make a play, you acknowledge it, you celebrate it, but then you get back out there, ready to make another play," he said. "Once the year is over, you'll go back, look at some highlights and kind of be impressed, but...anytime you make a play, you gotta get ready for the next play and anytime you have a good game, you gotta get ready for the next game."
Rivera said Fuller was a little rusty during his season debut against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3; he had one tackle after missing the first two weeks with a knee injury. Since then, Fuller has four interceptions and five pass breakups. It's safe to say the rust has been shaken off.
"Obviously based on some of the things we want to do with our coverages, when you have a guy like him out there and you have him shadowing players, he's a special guy," Rivera said in September. "He's got that kind of ability where he can help make a difference in the game plan."
-- Rivera explains why Washington can compete in the NFC East: Washington is one of nine teams in the NFL with just one win through six games. The good news is that the other teams in the NFC East aren't faring much better; all four teams are below .500, and their combined record is a league-worst 5-17-1. That, and the flashes of talent -- scoring 27 points against the Philadelphia Eagles and putting up 343 yards against the Baltimore Ravens -- Washington has shown this season, is enough reason for Rivera to believe the team still has a shot to compete in the division.
"That's probably the biggest thing I can say, because you go back and look at some of the things that we did. We moved the ball at certain times against some people, and you feel good about that. Defensively, we had a good game yesterday. We had some guys step up. You just hope that that's what's happened. I challenge these guys just because of the circumstances in our division. It's not like anybody's running away with it right now. We're going to keep seeing what happens each week."
-- Motivation through injury: Washington has dealt with lingering injuries to some of its young players throughout the season. Saahdiq Charles finally made his NFL debut after weeks of recovering from a calf injury, only to be helped off the field two plays into Sunday's game. Antonio Gandy-Golden is another player who was starting to receive more playing time after missing portions of training camp but was taken out of the game with a hamstring injury. Rivera sees both of their talent levels, and he wants to keep them motivated as they recover.
"You don't want them to go into a dark place. You want them to sit there and go, 'Hey, this is a setback. This is a challenge. I've just got to take it for what it is and just keep working hard and get myself back into it.' We...have got to be there to support them. 'Hey man, keep working. We know what you can do. We know who you are. Just keep going, keep going and you'll be alright.' We've got to pass that message onto them."
-- Rivera knows when his message starts to resonate: Rivera has liked the team's young core of players since he was hired in January, but he believes they need to be taught how to win in the NFL. In order for the players to understand his process, he wants to have a clear, succinct message that acts as a mantra for them to follow. He has a good idea of when that message will start to take hold in their minds.
"When they start repeating it and saying it to you guys," he said to media members. "I think that's important, I really do. When they start repeating some of the things that you say, then you know that they're on point. You know that they're hearing what you're saying. You know that they hear that and they understand it."
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