LANDOVER, Md. — Ron Rivera has often said changing the culture in Washington will take at least three years. Some of his players seemed to have picked up on the message much quicker.
Down 17-0, Washington scored 27 unanswered points to stun the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 in the season opener on Sunday at FedEx Field.
Rivera’s message of resilience was tested early.
In the first half, Washington looked like the Redskins, committing dumb penalties and giving Philadelphia life on third-and-long situations.
They then turned the corner and became the Washington Football Team, showing what Rivera wants them to become with a mix of toughness, leadership and opportunistic play.
It started at halftime. Rivera, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, received a planned IV to ensure he wouldn’t fall ill during the second half. In his place, the halftime speech was given by quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who took control of the room and delivered what was described as a “raucous” message.
“We’re the home team, they’re the visitors,” Haskins said, paraphrasing himself. “There’s no reason why we should be feeling like we should be the little bro to them.”
He finished the job, but the defensive line cranked the game to the “easy” setting for him.
Every Washington score started in Philadelphia territory, the result of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz being sacked eight times and intercepted twice.
“The whole room knows what the potential was, but today they showed it,” cornerback Jimmy Moreland (James Madison) said. “That made it less pressure for us as a secondary, knowing that a quarterback is going to get a little itchy in the pocket knowing our D-line is coming.”
Moreland logged his first career interception. Ryan Kerrigan’s second sack was the 92nd of his career, making him the franchise’s all-time sack leader, passing Dexter Manley.
Chase Young got his first NFL sack, arriving to the stadium dressed in a green suit (because Sundays are when money gets made).
If the defense won with star power and big plays, the offense found just enough grit to get the team across the finish line.
With the score 17-17 in the fourth quarter, two decisive moments happened on Washington’s ensuing drive.
Tight end Logan Thomas, a former Virginia Tech quarterback, had to dive to catch a third-and-8 pass short of the sticks, but sensed he hadn’t been touched by the defense, and got up and dived for the extra yard, extending the drive
Then on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles’ 4-yard line, Rivera didn’t play it safe and let his defense win the game — he sent his offense on the field to go big. Peyton Barber got the yard, but Rivera got his message across.
“I did that because I wanted the guys to make sure they understood that I believed in them,” Rivera said. “My first couple years as a head coach I made that mistake, not showing the team early enough that I believed in them, so it took us a little bit longer. I want these guys to know I believe in them, I believe that we could get that first down, and they did.”
Sunday’s results bought Rivera instant credibility, though sky-high expectations will have to wait.
The Eagles at one point had lost four of their starting five offensive linemen because of injuries, and quarterback Carson Wentz lost all confidence in the group early in the second half.
Still, there is no reason to detract from Washington’s victory — it was equal parts improbable and remarkable, and showed that even if the newly christened Football Team isn’t playoff bound just yet, it won’t be a doormat for better teams to shove aside.
There are also indications that the new coach’s mentality transferred to the players this season, even via Zoom.
Rivera gave the game ball to Kerrigan in the locker room, congratulating him on setting the record. He was then presented with one of his own. He deflected the attention back to the players, instilling one last final bit of confidence on a morale-boosting day.
“Trust me fellows,” Rivera said. “It’s in here. It really is.”
Philadelphia 10 7 0 0 — 17
Washington 0 7 7 13 — 27
Phi—Ertz 5 pass from Wentz (Elliott kick), 11:14.
Phi—FG Elliott 38, 2:13.
Phi—Goedert 34 pass from Wentz (Elliott kick), 6:54.
Was—Thomas 6 pass from Haskins (Hopkins kick), :40.
Was—Barber 1 run (Hopkins kick), 9:25.
Was—FG Hopkins 38, 14:15.
Was—Barber 3 run (Hopkins kick), 6:13.
Was—FG Hopkins 40, 3:25.
First downs 19 18
Total Net Yards 265 239
Rushes-yards 17-57 36-80
Passing 270 178
Punt Returns 3-14 5-17
Kickoff Returns 0-0 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-32
Comp-Att-Int 24-42-2 17-31-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 8-62 3-19
Punts 5-53.6 7-47.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 3-20 7-55
Time of Possession 30:39 29:21
Rushing–Philadelphia, Scott 9-35, Clement 6-19, Wentz 1-2, Huntley 1-1. Washington, Gibson 9-36, Barber 17-29, Haskins 7-17, McKissic 3-(minus 2).
Passing–Philadelphia, Wentz 24-42-2-270. Washington, Haskins 17-31-0-178.
Receiving–Philadelphia, Goedert 8-101, Ward 5-31, Ertz 3-18, D.Jackson 2-46, Scott 2-19, Clement 2-2, Reagor 1-55, Hightower 1-(minus 2). Washington, McLaurin 5-61, Thomas 4-37, S.Sims 3-50, Inman 2-21, Gibson 2-8, McKissic 1-1.
Missed FGs–Philadelphia, Elliott 53. Washington, Hopkins 48.