Ron Rivera spoke often of his assistants needing to step up during the week when the coach undergoes cancer treatments. He didn’t mention they would be the difference in winning the season opener.
Yes, it took all 53 players plus the coaching staff in the Washington Football Team’s 27-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday before an empty FedEx Field. Oh, how fans used to bad losses would have enjoyed watching Washington wear out its NFC East foe.
The victory didn’t come easily. After trailing 17-7 at halftime, Washington returned to dominate Philadelphia on both sides. It seems offensive coordinator Scott Turner and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio weren’t eating hot dogs at halftime like the preceding staff that never counterpunched in the third quarter.
Rivera leaned over to Turner with some needed advice – calm down. It was Turner’s first game as an OC – his interim time in Carolina last year aside – and the son of former Washington coach Norv Turner was pressing. He was trying to force the running game early against a waiting Eagles line. Rivera knew Washington could wear down Philadelphia and Turner became creative to make the Eagles defend the whole field. Soon, the run-pass ratio was balanced with the running game setting up key passes. And when the running game was needed, they pounded more than sand.
Rivera went to the bench in the first half to talk to the offensive line. He trusted Del Rio nearby to run the sideline. Rivera encouraged the line to persevere because grinders win in the NFL. Past coaches would have left task that to an enraged assistant whose yelling would have been ignored.
Meanwhile, Del Rio’s defense is always going to attack like Vikings sacking border towns. Washington wasn’t getting enough for their effort, though. They made three sacks in one drive and still allowed a score thanks to two third-down penalties.
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Be smart, Del Rio advised. Persist, but don’t stupid. Washington steady wore down the Eagles offensive line and turned quarterback Carson Wentz from Superman to mere mortal by throwing two interceptions that led to 14 Washington points. It’s easy to just unleash this pass rush. Five linemen combined for seven sacks. Still, if a quarterback is able to counter, what’s the point?
Del Rio learned to pick his spots. When the Eagles tried to convert on fourth down, he sent linebacker Jon Bostic through the middle to bury Wentz. Really, there should be a tombstone on the field that says “Here lies Carson Wentz.”
Game balls went to Ryan Kerrigan for his two sacks that made him the official team sack leader over Dexter Manley with 92. Strangely, the NFL didn’t count individual sacks in Manley’s 1981 rookie season when he made six so Kerrigan is not the unofficial leader. Yet, he deserved the ball while the next two were given to the coordinators.
The last game ball? Players gave it to Rivera for leading a disgraced franchise back to respectable. Maybe it was only one win, but nobody will take Washington lightly now. Not with a staff that knows how to win.
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Rick Snider is an award-winning sports writer who has covered Washington sports since 1978. He first wrote about the Washington football team in 1983 before becoming a beat writer in 1993. Snider currently writes for several national and international publications and is a Washington tour guide. Follow Rick on Twitter at @Snide_Remarks