The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
In putting together the daily Twitter articles this week, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for the Washington Football Team from players, coaches, fans and even the national media. There’s a bit of a bandwagon forming that began, in my opinion, with the beatdown of the Cowboys on a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving day, when roughly 30 million people saw what Ron Rivera had built so far. The win over the Steelers a week later was in a time window with no other games (Monday at 5pm) and was televised to perhaps a quarter of the US. The shocking win against the previously unbeaten Pittsburgh team on the road went a long way towards convincing everyone that what had happened in Dallas wasn’t a fluke. These guys were for real!
I wrote an article after the Dallas win that said that this kind of victory, witnessed by so many NFL fans, many of them seeing Washington play for the first time all season, was a watershed moment — a game that would begin to change the national narrative about the team. I wrote briefly after the Steelers game that, while two good wins couldn’t erase two decades of dysfunction, the result would continue to change the national narrative in a positive way.
This past Sunday, the Washington Football Team’s defense had a tremendous game that put that entire defense, but Chase Young in particular, into highlight reels on every channel (that’s what we used to say in the last millennium, when people still watched TV).
I can say that, after this most recent win against the 49ers on the road — the fourth in the winning streak, but the third in changing the national narrative — suddenly, the narrative has changed. I’m hearing and reading things about this team that I haven’t heard or read in a long time.
Brian Baldinger posted a gushing 2 1⁄2 minutes of film on Monday that couldn’t reasonably be called a breakdown. It was simply the stream of consciousness of a fan marveling at the play of Washington’s defense against the 49ers.
.@WashingtonNFL will eventually be the best defense in football but in the meantime they are quickly becoming the most feared team in the #NFL #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/1bPaFysPFW— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) December 14, 2020
“They just physically whip you. It’s not one guy; it’s not two guys...it’s the whole damned team!”
“You just see bodies on the ground. They’re just mangling teams right now.”
“Watch Jonathan Allen...he just beats guys... One-Two-Bam! Like it’s a Kung Fu movie.”
“This is a different brand of football. Right now, there’s nothing that they can’t do.”
“...an old fashioned-butt whippin’ — man to man, over and over again.”
“Watch Kam Curl just destroy the tight end.”
“This is just a body-toss. Look at this! They’re just throwing people around.”
“It awesome! And it’s all legal!”
I love seeing this kind of response from other people to the football being played by the burgundy & gold. This is a throwback to my youth; this is the kind of football I grew up watching the Redskins play.
I’ve heard what Brian Baldinger had to say reflected time and again this week in more refined terms. One of the most oft-repeated words I’ve heard from analysts this week when talking about the team has been the word, “physicality”. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’d ever heard the word before. As an English teacher, I might’ve marked it wrong if one of my students had used it in an essay, but there is no doubt what people are talking about when they use it. Washington Football Players — especially on defense — are playing tougher than their opponents. They are beating people up. Thank you Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio!
Ron Rivera told reporters that, before the Pittburgh game, he told the Washington players that the Steelers would try to intimidate them and rough them up. He told them not to take it; to go toe to toe and give better than they got. That’s a mentality that I love.
So physicality is now a word in my vocabulary.
Another word that I’ve heard a lot this week — a word that was surprising to me when I heard it from non-Washington fans — is “fun”. I actually read it on one of our division opponents’ websites. I can’t remember now if it was the Giants, Eagles or Cowboys, but you know things are special when division foes talk about the fun your team is having.
But, again, the narrative has gone national. Sports media members are enjoying watching the Football Team win. Consider what you see in the clip from GMFB below. Nate Burleson breaks into a huge smile and says,
“That defensive line for the Washington Football Team is so entertaining to watch! They’re not just athletic and fast, but they’re big!“
“They might be the most entertaining defensive line in all of football because, at any moment, it’s either a big knockout punch, or he knocks the quarterback on his butt, or it’s a turnover.”
"Right now in the whole league the most powerful, terrifying forces are Mahomes to Kelce/Hill, Rodgers to Adams, and the @WashingtonNFL D-line." -- @KyleBrandt— GMFB (@gmfb) December 14, 2020
The crew breaks down the the NFC East. pic.twitter.com/WMbI1L7E7K
Who would have thought, at any point in the 18 to 24 months leading up to the middle of November 2020 that anyone anywhere would be calling the Washington Football Team “fun” or “the most entertaining” in football? If you saw that coming, you should head straight to the roulette table at your nearest casino, because it was probably the last thing I expected to hear from the national media (or our rival blogs) in 2020.
Easy to root for
I saw a nice editorial in Richmond.com this week with the intriguing headline:
Against all odds, the Washington Football Team is ... likable?
Something strange happened on the road to first place: Washington became easy to root for. The biggest reasons are the obvious ones.
Quarterback Alex Smith completed one of the biggest injury comebacks in sports history, rewriting the book on what’s possible after undergoing 17 surgeries on his injured right leg.
Coach Ron Rivera, another man highly regarded across the league, spent the first two months of the season fighting a winning battle with cancer, one that left him 30 pounds lighter and barely able to swallow, yet he was on the sideline for every game.
There are other reasons, too — young receiver Terry McLaurin, former Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, and others.
It’s 2020, and we need a feel-good story.
Celebrating the biggest game of his professional career, Chase Young made a FaceTime call to his mom, Carla, from the postgame locker room.
“It gives me some motivation when I’m tired,” Chase said. “Like, I can’t look like no sucker for my mom.”
So when Chase Young entered the postgame interview room, he brought Mom along — and she shared her thoughts about a two-touchdown day for the defense.
The son beamed with pride. Washington fans celebrated the rise of a game-changing talent. And nationally, more skeptics were won over to this season’s unlikeliest feel-good story.
“You’re seeing a lot of personalities come out, and we’re starting to have fun with it,” said linebacker Cole Holcomb.
This isn’t the only place you’re hearing it or reading it. I hear the TV announcers at some point in every game talking about Ron Rivera’s fight against cancer. They talk about the coach taking naps before games, getting IV fluids at half-time, having to miss a few practices, but never missing a game, and, in October, ringing the bell to signify an end to his cancer treatments.
They talk about Alex Smith and the Project 11 documentary from ESPN that detailed for the world Alex’s incredible battle to come back to football after a devastating injury that was complicated by infections. We hear every week about his 17 surgeries and his likely coronation as the Comeback Player of the Year.
But, in the end, it’s the joy and character that you see displayed on the football field by players like Terry McLaurin, Kamren Curl and Cole Holcomb, along with the breakthoughs of players like Deshazor Everett, Jeremy Reaves, Cam Sims and Logan Thomas.
The turnaround from 12 months ago (remember Bill Callahan and his run, run, run philosophy?) and 24 months ago (Alex Smith injury; Mark Sanchez; Josh Johnson) is astonishing.
An unfinished journey
Washington under Ron Rivera has come so far so quickly that it’s easy to feel like the team has arrived. People seem to be starting to take for granted that the Washington Football team is playoff-bound and the Cinderella story is already in the cards.
I saw a poll on Twitter yesterday that disturbed me. It asked which team Washington fans would rather face in the playoffs, the Rams, Seahawks or Buccaneers?
That’s what prompted me to write this 5 o’clock club article.
Thinking about playoff opponents is WAY premature! The Washington Football Team (established in 1932) has three regular season games left, as does every other team in the NFC East.
The Football Team has a one-game lead on New York, a game-and-a-half lead on Philly, and an effective three game lead on Dallas. That makes it very long odds for the Cowboys, but the other two teams still have the potential to overtake Washington — and that Week 17 matchup with Philly could loom large if Washington stumbles in Week 15 or 16.
Week 15 - This Sunday, Washington hosts the Seattle Seahawks, who looked vulnerable when they lost to the Giants two weeks ago. But the ‘Hawks pulled themselves together and put a 40-3 beatdown on the Jets this week to remind everyone that they are still 9-4, still hunting for the NFC West title, and — as long as Russell Wilson is on the field — are still dangerous. There’s no way that anyone can assume a win this week. Getting the needed win against the Seahawk will be tough, and if Washington doesn’t stretch their winning streak to 5 games, they open the door for New York and Philadelphia.
Week 16 - The Panthers come to visit. Carolina coach Matt Rhule said this week that he won’t use the final three games of the season as a tryout for 2021. He told reporters that his team will hit the field with the intention of winning their final three games. I’m sure that Rhule will be keen to get the victory against Ron Rivera, who symbolized Panthers football for a decade. This will not be an easy victory to get.
Week 17 - The trip to Philly could be momentous if the switch to Jalen Hurts at quarterback pays dividends for the Eagles over the next couple of weeks. If Philadelphia can enter the final game of the season with just one win less than Washington (which can only happen if the Football Team loses at least one game between now and Week 17), then the Eagles could pass Washington in the division standings with a win at Lincoln Financial Field. With the Eagles playing Arizona and Dallas in the next two weeks, the Week 17 game in Philly could be for the Division championship at 7 wins.
- If Washington finishes 1-2 in its final three games, then the team could finish as low as 3rd in the division and out of the playoffs.
- Even a 2-1 finish wouldn’t insure a division title if the Giants can go undefeated in the final three games. If that happened, then the WFT would have to rely on securing the final wild card spot with an 8-8 record.
No, the journey is not complete, and I think Ron Rivera and his team are well aware of that. These guys have shown laser-sharp focus over the past month and have put together the league’s second-longest active winning streak (behind the KC Chiefs), but that tells you just how hard it is to keep on winning in the NFL. The team still has 20% of the season ahead, and it’s not yet time to celebrate more than one victory Monday at a time.
There’s every reason to feel good about the team and what it has accomplished so far this season, but there’s a long way to go before we raise any banners or hoist any trophies. Enjoy the ride and have fun, but don’t celebrate a trip to the playoffs too soon.
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