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. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.
Head coach Ron Rivera was heading to the buses after the Washington Football Team's 23-17 upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers when he decided to give team owner Dan Snyder a call.
Snyder began to congratulate Rivera almost immediately; considering his group had just upended one of the NFL's top teams in its own stadium, some celebration was rightfully deserved. But that's when Rivera stopped him and said, "I want you to know that this victory came...exactly one year from the first time you and I talked about the team."
"Now, you remember what the conversation was that we had?" Snyder asked.
"Yes," Rivera replied. "It was about culture and changing the culture of the team."
That was the start of Rivera's journey towards turning Washington, which finished 2019 with one of the worst records in franchise history, into a winner. There's still a long way to go to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl, but Monday night's win was a clear sign the team is making progress.
"We're headed in that direction," Rivera said of establishing a new culture. "We're trending that way. There are a lot of positives to take from that game. Now we have to see how we handle this success."
Rivera made it clear during his exit press conference with the Carolina Panthers that he wanted to get back into coaching, but he wanted to find an opportunity that felt comfortable to him. Five days later, that opportunity came after Snyder had spoken with Rivera's agent about possibly hiring him as Washington's new head coach. They spoke about rebuilding the team into a contender and establishing a culture based on a coach-centered approach.
It was serendipitous for Rivera to see his path to this point come full circle Monday night. Some of his first experiences evaluating Washington's roster were while watching game footage off a thumb drive Snyder sent him. That led to more film study and evaluations; by the time he met with Snyder in person, he had a full report to share.
What Rivera saw was a group of young players who were raw but talented. Outside of some additions via the NFL Draft and free agency, the makeup of the team is largely the same, and many of them had an impact against the Steelers. Cole Holcomb, who recorded 105 tackles in his rookie season, had nine tackles Monday. Montez Sweat supplied a pass deflection that helped Jon Bostic secure an interception in the fourth quarter.
Despite Washington having a bevy of cap space to bring in high-end players, Rivera chose to stick with the players he had because he believed in them. Not only did that prove to be a wise decision, but the win over the Steelers solidified that Washington (5-7) can compete with the NFL's best teams.
"I think they learned that our guys can be resilient, first of all, which we have seen," Rivera said. "Secondly, I think it showed that we can play with teams like Pittsburgh. We have got to be able to make sure we understand that we're capable of it. And I think it tells the other teams that, 'Hey, we're pretty good. We got some guys that can play and we have got to go out and just do our thing.'"
Washington's upcoming schedule does not get much easier; first it'll travel to play the San Francisco 49ers on a short week, and then it'll host the Seattle Seahawks.
But Rivera knew this stretch of games would test his team's character and be a measuring stick on where the culture stands.
One year after this all started, it seems like it is going as planned.
"I'm interested in seeing it, I really am," he said. "I'm excited about it. I really do think it's a big step in terms of our culture and where we are in terms of a football team."
-- "This is kind of what you hope for" with Washington's defensive line: The broad expectations were that Washington's defensive line was going to be the best group on the roster, and it has been for the past seven weeks. It leads a pass rush that is tied for third in generating sacks, and even though it couldn't get to Ben Roethlisberger Monday night, it had half of Washington's pass deflections. With three of its players finishing the game with a Pro Football Focus grade above 80.0, the group was dominant against the Steelers. That's exactly what Rivera wants to see.
"This is what you kind of hope for is that you get to this point of the season and they're ascending. That's the big thing is that you want to see that growth where they're going up because it bodes well for the future. That's the thing. We don't know what's going to happen in the next few weeks, but we're going to come out and play hard and give our best effort and see what happens. We really believe right now -- at least I do -- that the players have bought in and they're beginning to believe in what the potential in this unit can be, what this group of guys can accomplish."
-- Rivera wanted to wait for a big game for the white-on-white uniforms: Rivera knows how much Washington fans like the white-on-white uniforms. People had been talking with him about the color combination dating back to early in the season, and when he learned about the history of Washington donning white, he decided he was going to save them for a big game. That time came Monday night, when Washington unveiled them for the first time in about a decade. When the players finally found out, Rivera could hear the excitement in their voices.
"That's great because, right now -- winning helps, trust me. You guys know that. It makes a lot of things better. Even food tastes better. Just listening to them be excited about wearing white jerseys and then white pants and watching them after the game, it's why you do what we do. It's exciting."
-- "Underdogs win": Washington was a six-point underdog heading into Monday's game against the Steelers, and that has been the case for most of the season. The players want to be respected and not considered an afterthought. That's why the "underdog" mentality resonates with them, Rivera said. Most believed Washington didn't have a chance against the Steelers, and yet it handed them their first loss of the season. So, when Rivera was writing down notes on a flashcard in preparation for his victory speech, he wrote down two words: "underdogs win."
"When we won the game and I went into the locker room and I pulled out the flip card, I said: 'Let me read my flip card to you guys: Underdogs win.' I told the guys: 'Just understand this as we talk about it: we control our own destiny. We have to pay attention and focus on us. Not what's happening outside of us, but what happens with us.' That's kind of the approach we're going to use because going forward, we can't count on anybody else winning or losing. We have to count on us winning. That's the thing that I think these guys are beginning to understand."
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