Good things are taking place in Washington at the moment, and suddenly the NFC East doesn’t look so much like the Cowboys’ to lose anymore.
Washington Football Team responded to its four-game losing streak by winning three consecutive games before the Sunday match at Las Vegas.
Washington (5-6) not only enters the game just 2 ¹/₂ games behind the Cowboys (8-4), but it still has both games against the rivals remaining on the schedule, at home Dec. 12 and at Dallas on Dec. 26.
Washington looks to be in a similar situation to last season when it recovered from a 2-7 starting to win the division.
That trend isn’t unfamiliar to Washington coach Ron Rivera. Five times in five seasons his teams have lost the first half of the season at Washington and Carolina. Four of his seasons saw him finish.500 or higher in the second quarter.
“I love our resilience,” Rivera said this week. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the way our guys have handled [things]. There’s been a lot of adversity circling us since we got here, a lot of it we had nothing to do with.”
Rivera meant to refer to an ongoing investigation into the Washington organisation for a number of wrongdoings. The worst being sexual harassment at work. Daniel Snyder, the company’s owner, has decided to leave the organization.
In the first quarter, Washington’s starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured. Montez Sweat (broken jaw), and Chase Young (torn anterior cruciate ligament) were the top two defensive end’s on the field.
Curtis Samuel was an offseason acquisition and has missed three games from a knee injury. Logan Thomas, the top tight end, had to miss five games after a hamstring strain.
From all of that has emerged one of the best stories in the NFL this season: journeyman quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who’s taken over for Fitzpatrick and played well, particularly during the three-game winning streak.
Heinicke signed with Vikings in 2015. Heinicke came out of Old Dominion undrafted in 2015. In 2017, he was drafted by the Patriots and spent three weeks with their practice team. Then came a stint with the Texans, then Rivera’s Panthers then a stop in the XFL with the St. Louis BattleHawks in 2019.
In December 2020, Heinicke was signed to Washington’s practice squad, and he has made the most of his opportunity.
“I don’t feel like I’m surprised,” Heinicke said of the recent winning streak. “You have faith in all those guys and you trust them. We’re all doing what we’re coached to do, we’re executing at a high level right now. If we keep doing this, we keep giving our team chances to win.”
Washington will still be in Sunday’s seventh and last playoff spot within the NFC.
“We haven’t arrived yet,” Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said this week.
“We’re not out of [the hole] completely,” Rivera said. “It wasn’t going to happen overnight. We’re coming together and being the team we envisioned.”