LANDOVER, Md.—Brontosauruses never laid eggs the size of the one produced by the Washington Football Team on Sunday.
With a chance to wrap up a division title that no one seems to want, Washington got dominated by a depleted Carolina team that had no real motivation other than paychecks and pride.
The 20–13 final was that close only because the Panthers went more conservative than a Tea Party representative in the second half and because Washington reliever Taylor Heinicke skipped his online final exams to show what a real NFL quarterback is made of.
“We just didn’t play championship-caliber football, to be honest with you,” said Ron Rivera, who has now been on the losing end of games in this rivalry for two straight years.
Last year, a loss at FedEx Field ended Rivera’s tenure as Carolina’s head coach. Improbably, despite Sunday’s debacle and a 6–9 record, his new team still has a chance to claim the wretched NFC East title with a win-or-else game next Sunday in Philadelphia.
“I believe in this team,” rookie safety Kamren Curl said. “We’ve just got to get ready for the Eagles and get a spot in the playoffs.”
Even against another team with nothing to play for, Curl and his teammates won’t succeed with a repeat of Sunday’s performance. They’re also unlikely to pull it off without a healthy Alex Smith. But even if Smith can’t go, they should know by now that they can’t trust Dwayne Haskins.
Few public figures have had as bad a seven-day stretch as Haskins endured. “It was definitely the hardest week of my life,” he said.
After last week’s loss to Seattle, Haskins was caught on video partying maskless with a large group of people, violating NFL policy. Rivera stripped him of his team captaincy but stuck with him as the starter in place of Smith, whose calf injury didn’t allow him to play Sunday.
The latter decision drew immediate criticism and didn’t look so inspired after Haskins committed three of his team’s four turnovers and posted a first-half passer rating of 8.3.
When Haskins failed to convert a fourth-down play early in the fourth quarter (and was sacked by Chancellor High School graduate Yetur Gross–Matos), Rivera turned to Heinicke, a former Old Dominion University star who last played in the NFL in 2018.
Heinicke was taking online classes at ODU and preparing for finals when Washington called and asked him to serve as the team’s quarantine quarterback, isolating from his new teammates in case the coronavirus wiped out the QB room. Instead, it was injuries and Haskins’ poor play that gave him the chance.
Heinicke led one late touchdown drive (something Haskins didn’t do), but the Panthers recovered the onside kick to deny him a chance at another.
If Smith isn’t ready Sunday, Heinicke is Rivera’s only option. Haskins shouldn’t even be on the team bus; in fact, he may not even be on the roster.
“I love Taylor,” said rookie defensive end Chase Young, who forced two fumbles Sunday and was the best player on the field. “When he went in, I went on the field. I don’t remember what I said, but it was some encouraging words. He said, ‘I got you, bro, This is what I do.’ I said, ‘OK, he’s got some swag,’ “
Washington will need that attitude—and a lot more successful plays—to beat the Eagles. Said Young: “We have to take accountability for what we put on the field today.”
To be honest, few expected Washington to be in contention at any point in this rebuilding season. The fact that Rivera has his team one win away from a division title says more about how the Eagles (4–10–1) and Dallas Cowboys (5–9) have underperformed than anything Rivera’s team has done.
It wouldn’t be a holiday season without gifts. And Rivera’s team has one final undeserved chance to salvage a bizarre season and host a playoff game in two weeks.
“We just move forward,” receiver Cam Sims said. “We just got to take every opportunity and make it.”
After Sunday’s fiasco, they’re down to their last shot.
Steve DeShazo: 374-5443