Ron Rivera Credit: All-Pro Reels

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Instead of playing last Sunday in a pivotal division matchup against the Eagles, the Washington Football Team entered Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Tuesday night for a game that was postponed due to a wave of COVID-19 cases within the team. Instead of quarterback Taylor Heinicke leading a late season charge with a potential playoff spot on the line, it was Garrett Gilbert—the team’s fourth starting quarterback this seasonunder center for Washington. And instead of whatever positive vibes and momentum the team had accumulated during its four-game winning streak, Washington’s 27-17 loss drops the team to 6-8 and further dampens its fading playoff hopes as the NFL—and the country at large—deals with a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The team now needs to win its remaining three games, which are all against division opponents, and receive help from other teams to make the playoffs.

“That’s the nature of the game,” Washington head coach Ron Rivera said after the loss. “You got to be able to handle tough circumstances, and I would have liked to handle these last couple weeks a little bit better than we did.”

The recent chaos surrounding Washington forced the team to adapt a “next, next, next man up” mentality. Over the past two weeks, 26 players, seven coaches, and several staff members ended up on the COVID-19 reserve list, including Heinicke and his backup, Kyle Allen. Just last week, Gilbert was preparing for a game against the Indianapolis Colts as a practice squad player for the New England Patriots. In just his second career start on Tuesday, Gilbert went 20 of 31 for 194 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked twice for a loss of 20 yards.

“I thought he gave a heck of an effort,” Rivera said. “He made some good decisions. He delivered some good balls. And just his timing and rhythm was off a little bit. It showed when we got in a couple of situations that he hadn’t had enough reps. He was late a couple times coming back off of his reads. He hung on his reads a little bit longer, but man he made some plays. And he fought and he battled and when a guy does that, you appreciate that.”

Washington went ahead 10-0 in the first quarter, with the defense forcing turnovers that led to a one-yard Antonio Gibson touchdown and a 22-yard field goal from Brian Johnson. The touchdown drive started when Landon Collins intercepted a ball that bounced off of Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert’s heel. Collins later recovered a fumble after Montez Sweat sacked Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, which led to the Washington field goal. The teams were tied, 10-10, heading into halftime.

“We had our opportunities,” Rivera said. “We missed some opportunities we didn’t take advantage of, both sides of the ball.”

Washington’s defense had trouble stopping the Eagles in the second half, and Philadelphia finished with 519 total yards compared to Washington’s 237 yards. Hurts went 20 of 26 for 296 yards with one touchdown and the interception in the first quarter. Washington running back Jaret Patterson’s one-yard touchdown made it a 20-17 game, but that would be the last time Washington scored.

After the game, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen took responsibility for the loss, and refused to let the COVID-19 cases be an excuse for the team’s play on the field.

“We’re not going to blame COVID for what happened today. Defensive line played bad. I played bad. I’m gonna be better next week,” he said. “At the end of the day, we can say if we would’ve had all our guys, we would’ve played better, but at the end of the day, no one gives a damn.”

“In the NFL, you get paid to handle adversity,” Allen continued. “If we do our job, we win the game today. We didn’t do our job, and we got embarrassed. That’s just what it comes down to. We get paid to handle adversity.”

Washington plays the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday in a must-win game. During the post-game press conference, Rivera spoke about needing to give the players as much rest as possible physically, while focusing on the positives of just having played the Cowboys.

“We got to win out,” he said. “We got to take them one at a time, focus in on them one at a time, then move to the next one. But we have an opportunity, we got to take it. It’s in front of us.”

Rivera also took the opportunity to advocate for the vaccine as COVID-19 cases spike on not just his team, but around the country due to the omicron variant.

“I hope everybody’s being very careful,” he said. “I really do mean that. From what we’ve seen and everything, it’s important that people take this omicron very serious, because it spreads like wildfire. And if you don’t have your booster, get it.”

Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.