It has been a while, as indicated by the thick layer of dust on the ol’ italics key, but I find it past time to do some Boldly Hoping!
Just over a year ago, so much about or favorite team was cloaked in negativity. Sure, we had been unburdened of the albatross that Bruce Allen had become for this franchise, but there was still the inescapable reality of what rooting for a team owned by Dan Snyder means to so many of us.
The hiring of Ron Rivera was one of my top moments as a fan of this team over the last 20 years, right up there with Sean Taylor running back the blocked Dallas field goal, Brad Johnson flexing his biceps on the sidelines in a playoff win and the announcement of the second tour of duty for Joe Jackson Gibbs. Our number one problem was the toxic culture that turned everything else inside the organization bad. The number one fix would have taken place in the owner’s suite, but let’s set that aside for a moment.
Snyder announced the end of our GM-centric organization and the beginning of the coach-centric organization. Whether it was a nod to the realization that he was not going to be able to get coaches to work for the jokers he was hiring at the general manager spot or a legit epiphany, I give credit to the steward Snyder for making this decision.
For starters, Rivera should have never taken this job. As an accomplished player and coach, he would have had his pick of landing spots, especially if he wanted to be patient and wait it out. To this day, I remain shocked not only that he took this job, but that he did it as fast as he did (other teams were still in the playoffs or still had not yet made decisions on their current coaches). True to form, he went with his gut—one that served him well in the past and one that served us well this season.
And it isn’t like Snyder gave Rivera the keys and got out of the way. Nope. Snyder was almost immediately the subject of a probe (or probes) for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the workplace. He was under fire from minority owners who showed zero hesitance to put their dirty laundry on the street.
He changed the name of the freaking team. He removed the name of the team (we technically have no name, right?). The veteran quarterback on the roster was down to one leg. The rookie quarterback on the roster was unproven...like EXTREMELY unproven. The best player on the roster, Trent Williams, was in the process of forcing his way out, leaving a locker room behind that at least appeared to be in shambles. Throw in a bout with cancer, and it would be hard to find a harder job than the one Ron Rivera set out to do when he arrived in Washington.
It wasn’t pretty...like right away, and for a while. (I guess if we’re being honest, it still ain’t super pretty, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we have grown to define beauty differently than, say, Chiefs fans.)
While this post isn’t about a blow-by-blow timeline of the season, I think it important to note some major milestones. For example, watching Ron Rivera need to sit down during games was difficult for me and for many of you. Having Jack Del Rio on our sideline proved to be pretty damn valuable—a move Rivera made because he knew he would need to lean on a man with that kind of coaching experience.
Benching Dwayne Haskins early in the season seemed like a quick hook to many. After all, what better time for a rookie quarterback to learn and get reps than a terrible season with zero expectations? Except those weren't Rivera’s expectations. Why was Haskins benched? Because the division was up for grabs. Seemed crazy to believe at the time.
Watching Alex Smith hit the field for the first time sent chills down all our spines. I get that 99% of the credit for that goes to Alex Smith, but it takes at least some balls for a coach to trot out a guy that almost died from his football injury and that NOBODY thought would/should ever play again. Think about it: Smith and Haskins were insanely even in the stat category, except for one major category...wins. Credit to Ron for figuring out which mediocre quarterback stat line worked best for our team.
Cutting Dwayne Haskins was a shock that I never saw coming. Nobody has ever cut that first-round rookie QB that quickly in the modern era. It would be hard to understate the impact of that move on the entire organization, and the timing of it was everything. Aside from you know, being right, the one thing we want most from our chief decision-makers is: decisiveness! Putting his foot in the ground and pointing the franchise away from Dwayne Haskins was insanely decisive, and it prevented months worth of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing. I won’t go so far as to suggest we won because he we cut Haskins, but I think some of what was causing us to lose walked out the same door as the second year player.
Getting a division title and a home playoff game in year one of the Rivera Rebuild will pay dividends as well. As one of the younger teams in the league (if and when Alex Smith retires, we ought to shoot up the board!), facing off against Tom Brady with something on the line should be informative. In a season where the primary goal was to find out as much about the team that he inherited as possible, putting that group in a win-or-go-home situation gave this coaching staff plenty to chew on in the coming offseason.
As I have said previously, I am not necessarily in favor of pushing all of our first-round chips (for years to come) into the middle of the table for a quarterback, but if that is what Ron wants to do, then I will be 100% on board. In the meantime, I am outrageously optimistic about the near and far term future of this team, and I will be spending this winter and spring Boldly Hoping.