The 2020 NFC East's 'Greatest' Hits: A Compilation to Make You Laugh, Cry and Cringe

Quarterbacks stumbled, literally and figuratively. There was hot sauce and watermelons. An overtime punt and so many QB changes. This was the NFC East in 2020.
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The NFC East is like a gritty alt-country song that’s too upsetting to be entirely believable. Sunday alone was a tour de force of significant missed officiating calls, rudderless blowouts, and yes, the wayward quarterback who has bounced from mask-less adult entertainment escapade to redemptive opportunity to sitting on the bench behind a man named Taylor Heinicke. The NFL should take a page from Jason Isbell’s book and eliminate the overkill. Subtlety is king (and so is Isbell).

With the Eagles’ loss officially eliminating them from contention, we are one merciless weekend away from crowning the most anticipated (by their opening-round opponent) divisional champion in recent memory. And Philly-Washington has been flexed into prime time anyway, so we can all see how this season's saddest story concludes together. The scenarios are as such ...

The Washington Football Team will win the division with a victory over the Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia (Washington also has no idea who will be starting at quarterback). If the Eagles defeat Washington, the winner of the Giants-Cowboys game earlier in the day at MetLife Stadium will be crowned the division winner.

For once, something neat and tidy. But as we approach the end of the year, it feels like the ending is not befitting of the utter chaos we endured for the better part of this season. That’s why, in the spirit of every end-of-year listicle you’ll be reading from here until the end of 2020 (and likely the beginning of 2021), here are some of the NFC East’s greatest hits of the year.

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• In 2020, Carson Wentz went from trendy MVP candidate to backing up Jalen Hurts at the end of the year. Nearly the entire Eagles’ roster sustained some type of injury, initially forcing Wentz into the Sisyphean task of piloting the offense with Travis Fulgham as his No. 1 wide receiver (this is not a slight on Fulgham, by the way, who had a fine year). Over time, Doug Pederson became less and less committal to Wentz before shifting to Jalen Hurts for a “spark” amid a blowout loss to the Packers. What was once a change-of-pace package became a semipermanent fixture in Philadelphia that will complicate matters for months to come. Wentz, reportedly, does not want to remain in Philadelphia as a backup. His contract is (relatively) immovable. So it goes.

• Daniel Jones began the year on a similar redemptive arc. The two distinct camps on Jones—one that believes the Giants mistakenly reached for an Eli Manning avatar and one that believes Jones has the arm talent that Dave Gettleman has gushed about for two years now—both have fair points, which is why it’s enjoyable to watch them devour one another whole. His statistical campaign was not remarkable—heading into Sunday’s loss to Baltimore: 2,462 yards, eight touchdowns, nine interceptions, 62.1% completion rate, minus-0.9 completion percentage above expectation—but he has been brilliant in several small windows, leading some to believe that with a more dependable wide receiver set, a healthy Saquon Barkley and a more creative force at offensive coordinator, he could be a valuable asset in the future. However, all of that is irrelevant in the face of one of the most profound moments of 2020. Daniel Jones, in a primetime Thursday Night Football game, reached a top speed of more than 21 miles per hour on a breakaway zone read run that ended in a spectacular stumble. That run was faster than any breakaway run from Lamar Jackson this year. Life is weird.

• The second year of the Dwayne Haskins era in Washington got off to a rocky start after Ron Rivera signed Kyle Allen and hesitated to throw any weight behind the idea that Haskins was a long-term starter. Washington’s first three weeks of the season felt more like performance theater from Rivera—see, I told you he wasn’t the guy—than anything else. And then Haskins was benched for Kyle Allen. And then Kyle Allen got hurt, giving way to the return of Alex Smith (a remarkable story in its own right). And then Alex Smith got hurt, handing the football back to Haskins. And then Haskins, last week alone, was fined $40,000 for his breach of COVID-19 protocol (being maskless in the company of a dancer), stripped of the captain’s C on his jersey and benched after Washington was beat up by a similarly middling Panthers team, forcing Washington to play its way into the postseason next week.

• Here’s a list of some people who started games at quarterback in the NFC East this year:

Kyle Allen ...

Andy Dalton ...

Ben “The Nooch” DiNucci ...

Garrett Gilbert ...

Colt McCoy ...

Jalen Hurts ...

Taylor Heinicke? ... We don't know yet. He replaced Dwayne Haskins in Week 16, and we'll have to see what Ron Rivera has planned if Alex Smith isn't ready to go next week.

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• Mike McCarthy began the season by admitting he kind of lied to Jerry Jones about all the work he’d done the previous season to retool his coaching philosophy to the modern game and then proceeded to do none of the things he promised he would. Then, he turned the season around by smashing a watermelon in front of his players.

• McCarthy’s defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, rubbed Tabasco sauce in his eyes during a live interview.

• Giants head coach Joe Judge told his players to forget about Christmas. He made his players run laps and got a bunch of thirsty analysts mad. Then he had his players tape tennis balls to their hands. (For the record, I loved all of this).

• Ron Rivera could have already gotten his team in the playoffs had he not tried to go for two to beat the Giants in regulation back in mid-October. He rationalized the move by saying Washington was a young team just learning how to win. Then, he benched Haskins the second it seemed like Washington could actually win the NFC East.

• Doug Pederson punted with seconds remaining in overtime, allowing the Bengals to run out the clock and earn themselves a tie instead of playing aggressively for a win. He defended the decision after the game but said the next day that he regretted it.

It’s wild that this doesn’t even scratch the surface. This is just a number of the greatest hits. This year’s NFC East could wind up with more compilations than the (equally insufferable) musical Eagles.

But, like so many other things that happened this year, it all makes a twisted kind of sense. Long live the NFC East. What are we going to do when one of these teams actually wins a playoff game?