Mixed Messages, One Chance & A Mess


Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera hasn’t learned you only get one chance to make a good impression in the nation’s capital. Mixed messages this season have fans wondering whether there are different rules for different passers.

Words matter in Washington. Maybe too much as politicians always twist them. But coach Jim Zorn was doomed when calling the team colors maroon and black in his first press conference. Twelve years later, it’s still remembered with a wince.

It took former president Bruce Allen several losing season to find his trademark phrase, but “winning off the field” is said like a curse nowadays. And coach Steve Spurrier’s “not too good” is still a Seinfeld-like quip.

Now Rivera is trying to clarify how he judges quarterbacks. With Dwayne Haskins, it wasn’t anything he did wrong as much as what he didn’t do like find open receivers or improve his mechanics. Yet, a whole offseason of talk dedicated to learning whether the second-year passer would be worth keeping a third lasted only a month. Meanwhile, his successor Kyle Allen’s meltdown in the 20-19 loss where the passer’s two turnovers were worth 14 points by the New York Giants was praised as having an overall good day.

Rivera spoke of 2020 being a rebuilding year, which really has become true in general among the pandemic. Everything in life is now dedicated to making 2021 a breakout time where we can, oh I don’t know, leave our homes without the fear of contracting a plague.

Despite a 1-3 start that has grown to 1-5, Washington can take the NFC East lead on Sunday by beating the Dallas Cowboys. Talk of patience was shoved aside as Rivera tries to steal a division title with perhaps a 7-9 record.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to make the playoffs even if it results in a one-and-done January. It beats 3-13.

But pick a message. Is Washington rebuilding and working on long-term improvement as was said from January to September or suddenly all-in for the short term in October? Cause come November, Washington may be right back in rebuilding mode after a few weeks of fool’s gold that fooled no one and may have cost future development.

Rivera has a right to change quarterbacks or directions. But, Washington fans burned by decades or misdirection no longer follow blindly. That the team only allows friends and family to attend games in the COVID-19 era prevents a repeat of 2019 embarrassment when the stands held only a few thousand local backers who were greatly outnumbered by visiting fans.

Meanwhile, the name change is merely a distraction. Another shiny bauble dangled by owner Dan Snyder as he fends off his partners and now lawsuits over alleged sexual harassment in the organization.

Rivera is new to this town where one chokes on words, fairly or not. Everything is over analyzed. The only hope is a simple, clear message that maybe, just maybe on a good day isn’t mangled by opponents.

Rivera needs to decide where this team is headed come Sunday evening. A win gives crazy hope that 2-5 is still in the chase. But if Washington falls to 1-6, then it’s time to sit Allen and not pretend he’s the next Joe Theismann when he’s really Rex Grossman. It will be time to return to the original narrative of learning whether Haskins will develop into a decent quarterback or the team needs to sign free agent Cam Newton or draft a passer over the offseason. Frankly, they could do both. Washington always loves a quarterback controversy.

“Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it’ll always get you the right ones,” said the late Beatle John Lennon.

There’s a lot of truth in that.

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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

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