SNIDER: Is better good enough for Washington?


Moral victories? Sorry, they don’t count. It’s always about winning in the NFL.

Washington is better than last year’s 3-13 when an early-season coaching change led to a continued letdown and by the end everyone was glad to be done. Then came along 2020 with its deadly virus and environmental calamities and soon 2019 was feeling pretty good.

Now new coach Ron Rivera, after eight months of talking, gets a chance to see if it’s more than talk when the team opens Sunday versus the Philadelphia Eagles. The schedule is once more harsh, with a potential 0-5 start like last year staring squarely at Washington. Then there's a Thanksgiving game in Dallas that begins another gauntlet. Sadly, 3-13 is once more a fashionable pick.

Washington is a better team than last year. They added potential star pass rusher Chase Young with the second overall pick. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins can build off a rookie season. Kendall Fuller returns to save one corner position. Rivera and his staff are an upgrade.

But is it enough? After allowing 30 or more points last season in eight games where every week seemed a new low, will close losses feel better? Rivera knows that won’t be enough to regain a fan base that left FedEx Field nearly devoid of local fans. This time, nobody will attend games, but plenty will be watching on TV and they need to see more than 17-14 losses.

“I’m serious when I say we’ve got to give our fans something to cheer about,” Rivera said. “First, it’s got to be good quality football. Then it’s got to be about winning. That’s what I want to see. I want to see us winning football games, but first and foremost we’ve got to see good football.”

But what would be a satisfying season if not making the playoffs? Is 6-10 a sizable jump? Rivera has treated this season as a stepping stone to making the postseason in 2021 or 2022. Yet, given each season is always its own element, maybe a push for winning earlier is needed in a year that will surely be different than the norm, given no offseason camps or preseason games. Somebody is going to surprise the league.

“I’m not going to put a number out there,” said Rivera on wins. “These guys have enough pressure on them. They don’t need to have a number on them. What they need to know is they have to go out and play hard and fast and physical. They do their job two things the right way, believe me winning will take care of itself. But to go out there and put a number to it, no I’m not going to write a check out to cash.”

Rivera is playing the progress game. Effort over victories, which translates into a record that former coach Steve Spurrier might describe as “not very good.” Rivera only worries about his own assessment.

“Well, the only thing I can tell you is no matter what happens, they’re ready to play,” he said. “How well we play, we’ll find out. What’s made me believe they’re ready to play is the way they’ve practiced. You’re looking for them to practice as closely to game tempo as possible, and we've had a number of those that I’ve been pleased with. Going forward I think we’re pretty doggone close, but we won’t know until we play on Sunday. We’ll show up, we’ll go through the kickoff and we’ll see what happens.”

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks