That Week 7 blowout of the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field and the bonus bye week to enjoy the victory are feeling pretty distant now, with back-to-back 3-point losses against two other struggling teams in the Giants and Lions. But fans of the Washington Football Team aren’t abandoning ship.
Polling by SB Nation during the 2019 season showed fan confidence crashing down to zero for several weeks, and not rising above 10% for most of the season. In 2020, by contrast, as the team has struggled to a 2-7 record, fan confidence has remained surprisingly buoyant as diehard fans of the burgundy and gold (and those are the only type remaining after two decades of Dan Snyder’s stewardship) continue to support Ron Rivera and his vision for the team.
After never having gone below 55% in 2020, fan confidence dipped to 44% in Week 7, ahead of the Cowboys game, when the Football Team had lost five straight games, including an unexpected loss to the Giants in Week 6. It jumped to 67% following the Cowboys game and stayed at that level during the bye week that followed.
Despite the loss of quarterback Kyle Allen to a dislocated and fractured ankle in Week 8, fans have continued to believe in the direction of the team, with support registering 61% a week ago and 53% following the loss to the Detroit Lions, a game that saw Alex Smith start and finish a game for the first time in more than two years.
While the play of the burgundy & gold has been less than inspiring on the field, the team certainly has its share of individually inspiring stories, one of which is quarterback Alex Smith. While many fans find his propensity to check down to the safe play an annoying style of play, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t admire the toughness that Smith has shown in his two-year fight, initially just to stay alive, and, eventually to return to the football field — not just for a ceremonial kneel down at the end of a game, but facing live pass rushes and blitzes against NFL defenses in meaningful games.
The other high profile inspiration has been the head coach, Ron Rivera, who was diagnosed with cancer during the off-season, just months after taking the job in DC. Rivera has coached his way through training camp and the regular season, rarely taking a day off and never missing a game, despite the obvious physical toll the effort took on him at times. Players have spoken about what it has meant to them, saying in effect, ‘If coach can do this while going through chemotherapy, then I can do it too’.
Fans always knew that 2020 was going to be a tough year in the win column. Rivera inherited a roster that featured a core of young players, but one that lacked the star playmakers, especially on offense, needed to truly compete for a championship in today’s NFL. While the team improved its roster talent in the April 2020 draft, it wasn’t very active in free agency, focusing on a number of low-cost, short-term free agent acquisitions that featured role players and journeyman that simply filled holes in the roster without really improving it. Beyond that, however, Rivera inherited a football culture of soft practices and undisciplined play that fans had dubbed “Club Jay” after former head coach Jay Gruden, who was a great guy to have a beer with but not so much of a disciplinarian. Adding to the pile of challenges that Rivera faces is the broader organizational culture under owner Dan Snyder that has been allowed to fester for the entirety of this millennium. Not long after Rivera arrived in DC, somewhere between addressing himself to the Trent Williams and Quinton Dunbar disputes and learning about his cancer diagnosis, Ron found himself in the midst of two shitstorms — one being the sudden overwhelming pressure to drop the Redskins moniker that had defined the franchise for 86 seasons, and the other brought on by a series of Washington Post articles that detailed a history of sexual harassment and unfriendly workplace practices in the organization.
The 2020 season for the Washington Football Team has mirrored the experience of the nation in that it has felt as if we’ve reeled from one challenging situation to another, with no real break in the bad news, all against a background of ill-health and dysfunction. In the midst of everything that has gone on, however, the fans of the Washington Football Team have prioritized Ron Rivera’s long-term vision over the short-term measurement of wins & losses and continued to believe.
NFL Reacts has a poll every week during the regular season and at key points during the off-season that covers things like fan confidence in the direction of the team, the most exciting games each week, and a fan Pick’em where you get to predict the winners of every game on the schedule.
If you’d like to become part of the process, you can sign up to NFL Reacts by clicking here.
You’ll get a survey via email each week that takes just two minutes to complete.
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