“If we had succeeded on it, it would’ve been a great decision on my part,” he said with a grin during a video conference call with reporters Monday. “But we didn’t, so some people think it’s not a good decision.”
But the move to play for the win comes on the heels of some other bigger-picture decisions by Rivera — from prioritizing players’ health in early games over maximizing the team’s chances for pulling off comeback victories, to benching quarterback Dwayne Haskins for Kyle Allen in the stated hope of competing for a title in the lackluster NFC East — that have created some questions among fans about Rivera’s priorities.
Is winning now the focus, or is he more concerned with developing a team that, at 1-5 and in last place, lacks veteran experience and overall talent at some key positions? What’s the goal for this season?
“Win as many games as we can,” Rivera said. “That’s the first thing. And then the second thing is that these guys can step away and say: ‘Wow, this is the culture that we’re going to have. This is how we’re going to have to do things. This is the way we need to do things. This is our way.' That, to me, is important.”
It’s possible Rivera can have both. Throughout training camp and in the early weeks of the season, however, the importance was placed on the developmental aspects of his plan. After a Week 2 loss to Arizona in which he spurned a chance to go for it on a fourth down and instead opted for a field goal, he said it was important to spare his team from experiencing a shutout. After a loss at Cleveland the following week, when his team trailed by two scores, he declined to use timeouts late to try to get the ball back.
But after a Week 4 loss to Baltimore, the emphasis became about winning and winning now. Haskins was abruptly benched and the focus was on the tight race for the NFC East, with Washington facing a four-game stretch that included three divisional matchups.
“I’m taking a shot at the short term for the short-term glory,” Rivera said at the time.
But after Washington’s 20-19 loss to the previously winless Giants, it’s fair to wonder whether his plan is sustainable with Washington’s personnel. After shuffling the lineup along the offensive line and in the secondary, and with Allen making his second start, Washington again fell short by its own doing with two costly turnovers. The team has 10 giveaways this season, tied for the fourth most entering Monday’s games.
Making matters worse is that players Rivera views as possible building blocks for the future suffered injuries that are likely to sideline them for weeks, according to people familiar with the situation. Rookie lineman Saahdiq Charles, who made his NFL debut at left guard Sunday, suffered a dislocated kneecap after only two snaps and won’t be able to return until after the team’s Week 8 bye at the earliest. Rookie wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden suffered a hamstring injury that will force him to miss at least a few weeks.
Rookie wide receiver Isaiah Wright was injured late in the fourth quarter, but his prognosis is not yet clear. If he’s out, too, the team will be down to three wide receivers on the active roster: Terry McLaurin, Dontrelle Inman and Cam Sims.
Yet Rivera seems undeterred. His plan is to trust his gut, be it in the final seconds of a close game or over the course of the next couple of years.
“When you start looking back and you start second-guessing yourself, you get into a situation of, ‘Oh, should I or shouldn’t I?’ And sometimes you freeze yourself,” he said Monday. “But to me, if the players know that’s what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play, now it starts taking hold of who they are.”
His goals remain to win now, to change a culture and to set up the franchise to win later on.
“Well, we are making progress,” Rivera said. “I don’t know if we have all the pieces. I do think we have some guys that are more than capable of winning, and it’s a matter of having enough of those guys. It’s also a matter of having the mentality, of understanding what it takes to win, what do you have to do to win, how do you have to play to win. … The thing I like is just the fact that we have a lot of young guys playing right now and this is their opportunity to learn and grow together.”
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