SNIDER: Rivera hopes team clicks entering key stretch


Those early-season losses weren't a big surprise to Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera. Nor were several players like quarterback Dwayne Haskins emerging slowly in the new system.

But as Washington returns Sunday against the New York Giants, after enjoying a bye week following a victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Rivera is seeing the "aha-moments" that could lead to a playoff run.

Maybe, the light that turned on isn't a train coming at them in a tunnel. Maybe they are the train that can rail through the next four opponents with a combined 8-22-1 mark. And, just maybe his team will be ready for December football when all things matter.

"I told our guys in our meetings today, 'I don't care if we’re 8-8 and getting into the playoffs. You've just got to be invited to the dance, and then we'll see what happens,'" Rivera said. "We'll see. Like I've said before, I've made it to the playoffs at 7-8-1 and people said we didn't deserve to be there, and we turn around and win our first playoff game and go on the road and scare the heck out of a good team. It doesn't matter. However, you can get in, get in."

With no offseason camps or preseason games, Rivera knew his first-year system would be slower to click. The needed reps on the field and game matchups just didn't happen. Instead, September was the laboratory and Washington lost four straight badly.

Rivera changed quarterbacks to Kyle Allen, who knew the system when he was in Carolina last season with Rivera. The younger team started learning nuances of the scheme, hitting holes cleaner and running routes in proper rhythm.

Washington (2-5) was a couple mistakes away from beating Cleveland and New York before punching through with a dominant victory over Dallas. Now the rematch turns into a grudge match versus New York and a gateway to the postseason. That's why Rivera benched Haskins after four starts and tinkered with the lineup. The team is ready for the second wave.

"I think players have 'aha-moments.' All of a sudden it's, 'Ah, I see what the coaches are saying. I see what they’re trying to show us. OK, that makes sense,'" Rivera said. "Again, part of it is we didn't have OTAs. We didn't have minicamp. We didn't have a normal training camp for these guys to look and see and adapt and get used to things.

"What's happening now is we're having these aha-moments, and hopefully they continue where it makes sense. 'That's why Coach told us to do this. That's why I should drop into this coverage. That's why I run the route the way I run.'"

"As a coach, that's gratifying. But you wish they'd get it sooner," he said. "Right now, we're kind of going through these aha-moments and, hopefully, they continue. Again, as the players see these little things and they make more and more sense, now you're going to see them play with more discipline. They're going to play faster. They're going to get to where they need to be to make plays. That's why aha-moments are so important."

That Rivera has completed his seven weeks of cancer treatments will also provide him with new energy. It was inspiring and miraculous how well he coached given the medical restraints. He completed treatments on Oct. 27 and now gains strength daily. The old Rivera seen as a strong leader in Carolina will steadily emerge as he pushes Washington over pivotal weeks.

Suddenly, it may come together and "aha" will be a past epiphany.

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

Featured Image Photo Credit: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images