Now well into the third season of Ron Rivera’s rebuild, we’re all quite familiar with his platitudes, clichés, and rhetorical crutches. He has a habit of going back to well-worn chestnuts, especially when the going gets rough, and one phrase, in particular, has annoyed me since the first time I heard him utter it.
Rivera: "It's never how you start, it's how you finish. Our goal is to end up in the right place."— George Wallace (@GWallaceWTOP) September 7, 2022
To me, it sounded like an excuse for losing, or being underprepared, early on, in an effort to keep fans and other interested parties hanging on in the hope that - eventually - this head coach who has had three winning seasons in his eleven years in the league would turn things around.
That said, one can understand the superficial appeal. After all, it has a folksy “tortoise and the hare” charm to it. We all know, “slow and steady wins the race”, right? Right? Turns out the logic of the NFL isn’t quite the same as Aesop’s fables.
It’s gotten to the point where even outsiders have begun to take notice of this linguistic silliness:
I respect Rivera--though they made the playoffs at 7-9. I did laugh out loud Sunday when he said when matters is, 'how you finish,' referencing the Giants game. Not when you're 6-10 and they're 4-12.— John Feinstein (@JFeinsteinBooks) January 4, 2022
Each September, we’re deluged with statistics about how few 0-2 or 0-3 teams make the playoffs, and probabilistically speaking, getting into an early hole seriously dampens a team chances. Meanwhile, a quick start to the season very often puts teams in a great spot to play extra frames.
So, as most would suspect, it does, in fact, matter “how you start.” But was this something that Ron had just contrived to buy more breathing room in Washington as he hit a rough patch?
No, alarmingly, it turns out that Coach Rivera has been peddling this nonsense for at least a decade, well back into his time with the Panthers.
#QuoteYourCoach It's not how you start that matters but how you finish that does. - Rivera— Nash (@CaptainNai_) March 15, 2013
Having discovered the ancestral roots of Ron’s sentiments, I decided to go back and take a look at his coaching performances, throughout his career, over the first four games of the season. The results of that analysis are below:
2011: 1-3 (0-2 start)
2012: 1-3 (1-1 start)
2013: 1-3 (0-2 start; made playoffs)
2014: 2-2 (2-0 start; made playoffs at 7-8-1)
2015: 4-0 (2-0 start; made playoffs)
2016: 1-3 (1-1 start)
2017: 3-1 (2-0 start; made playoffs)
2018: 3-1 (1-1 start)
2019: 2-2 (0-2 start)
How about in Washington?
2020: 1-3 (1-1 start; made playoffs at 7-9)
2021: 2-2 (1-1 start)
2022: 1-3 (1-1 start)
So, apart from the outlier seasons of 2013 and 2020, where the Panthers ultimately finished 12-4 and Washington snuck into the playoffs at 7-9, respectively, a strong start has almost always presaged a playoff birth, while a weak one has killed playoff chances before the team has gotten to Halloween.
Being mathematically eliminated or practically eliminated leaves the prime time of the football season empty. That is something in play this season. In the Rivera era, slow starts seem inevitable. Rivera is 8-16 so far before Thanksgiving.— Kevin-"isms" (@SheehanQuotes) October 3, 2022
In his twelve seasons coaching, through his first four games, Rivera has posted a 1-3 record six times, a 2-2 record three times, and a 3-1 or better record three times. In 50% of his coaching career, his teams have started off in a hole. Only 25% of the time have they finished the first quarter* of the season with a winning record. Not surprisingly, when they did that, they usually made the playoffs.
It turns out, one of the reasons that Ron’s teams may have slow starts to their seasons is because they’ve tended to have slow starts to their games:
Washington has now trailed at halftime in 23 of 37 regular season games under Ron Rivera— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) October 2, 2022
In 36 games under Ron Rivera:— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) September 29, 2022
Trailed 20-0 in 19% of games.
Trailed by 20 in 27% of games.
Trailed at any point in 91% games (2nd worst in NFL).
Saw a couple of these stats in @WashPost via @ngreenberg and @ScottSAllen.
So, Ron, enough of the rationalization of slow starts. Recognize that starting games and seasons strong is one of the single-best indicators of longer term success.
Stop coddling your team, your coaches, and the fans and start delivering early, or you’ll no longer have people listening to your message by the time you limp into the offseason.
What do you think of Ron’s "folk wisdom?"
This poll is closed
I’m enriched by it.
It’s low IQ pablum for the masses.
It should be bagged and sold as a soil amendment.