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Phillips: Ron Rivera is a respected coach, but he hasn't made a lot of sense recently

Phillips: Ron Rivera is a respected coach, but he hasn't made a lot of sense recently


Call it Ashburn Syndrome.

Otherwise sane, rational and successful people get sucked into the Washington Football Team vortex, and do things they would never do if they were thinking clearly.

Ron Rivera appears to be the latest victim. Rivera, an NFL lifer who has participated in the Super Bowl as a player and coach, knows that the quarterback is the most important position in the sport, and a head coach’s success rides in large part on his handling of that position.

And yet, here is an incomprehensive list of things that have happened in the past few days:

  • Rivera, who after a Week 3 loss declared he would stand by Dwayne Haskins through his ups and downs, benched Haskins after a 300-yard outing in Week 4. In doing so, Rivera declared, “I’m here to win.”
  • Having been demoted from first-string to third-string, Haskins was going to be inactive. He called the team doctors on Sunday morning and said he wasn’t feeling well. They told him to stay home and not come to the stadium. (That version of events according to Rivera.)
  • Rivera started Kyle Allen, but when Allen sustained an arm injury on his nonthrowing shoulder in the first half, Alex Smith came into the game.
  • During halftime, doctors cleared Allen to play, but Rivera, out of what he described as “an abundance of caution,” chose to stick with Smith.

“If I put him back in and he takes another big shot, now we don’t have him moving forward,” Rivera said.

  • After the game, Rivera declared that the job still belonged to Allen and he’d be the starter going forward.

Let’s start with the obvious one: Somehow the conditions (rainy) and the opponent (the Rams’ fearsome defensive line) were not worth the risk to Allen’s health, but it was OK to play the guy who is coming back from 17 surgeries?

If Rivera truly believes Allen is the player who gives his team the best chance to win, and Allen has been cleared by doctors, wouldn’t being “here to win” involve playing your best player at the position?

And if Smith were only out there to run out the clock and get Washington to the next game, wouldn’t that be something Haskins could do?

It was the day’s second head-scratcher. Earlier, with a fourth-and-1 on his 42, and Washington down 13-7, Rivera elected to punt. The numbers indicate it was the wrong move, and Washington’s defensive performance did not instill any confidence to go against the grain.

Moreover, Rivera made a big show of being extra aggressive in those situations over the first four weeks, wanting to show his young team that he believed in them. But apparently that belief doesn’t extend to Allen?

It’s tough to sort out how Rivera feels here.

If he’s actually playing to win in the woeful NFC East, his decisions make little sense because they don’t increase Washington’s chances of winning football games.

If trying to win the NFC East were just an excuse to spare Haskins’ feelings and bench him gently, then why has Haskins been tossed under the bus anonymously?

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Haskins was benched in part because of a lackluster work ethic, and The Athletic reported that the coaches can see how much time players spend studying film, and Haskins’ time was “abnormally low.”

Haskins responded by “unfollowing” the team and Rivera on social media.

Regardless of how petty that spat is, it reveals Haskins won’t be Washington’s quarterback of the future. It seems unlikely that Allen is, but sparing him snaps out of fear he might get hurt isn’t a great way to find out.

In the end, Rivera was tossed a life raft by a defense that turned in its first lackluster effort of the season, ending any discussion that the quarterback carousel kept Washington from winning.

The Football Team’s next three games are against the Giants, Cowboys and Giants. All three games are winnable. Going 3-0 would almost certainly give Washington the upper hand in the division.

Will Rivera truly attempt to win those games, or will he continue to run out the clock on a forgettable season?

Stay tuned.

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Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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