The week was the tale of opportunities lost, and fully taken. Philadelphia’s Eagles, for whatever reason bring out the best in this WFT crew. A unit that could not convert a third down the week before against the Giants until late in the game converted 7 of 12 against a superior unit on route to a 472 yard performance. In two games against the birds Eric Bieniemy‘s offense averaged more yards than the Eagles have allowed in any single game against anyone else. Still, the home team lost. Football turns on a dime. Twice Ron Rivera and crew had the opportunity in front of them to take control of the game. Both times were whiffs.
The first was a fourth down and one-yard to go situation in Eagles’ territory with the team moving. Rivera made a good call to forego the long field goal attempt to try for the first down. EB then pulled the clunker play call for a hitch pattern. Young QB Sam Howell, in the midst of his best day yet as a professional simply didn’t see the Corner hiding behind his receiver. Easy pass defense, nearly picked off (…as in “should have been picked off), end of drive. The Eagles took over on downs, drove the field, and scored.
Later the Eagles faced fourth down. Jalen Hurts threw a pass to DeVonta Smith ruled to be a completed pass. Smith apparently gave a signal to his team mates that he hadn’t really caught the ball. It was the same situation as in last year’s NFC Championship Game against San Francisco. The Eagles ran to the line including Hurts who was limping. A Washington staffer was ten or so feet from the play and immediately signaled the pass as incomplete. Yet, Washington didn’t challenge. When asked why Rivera said, “Because I didn’t see it on the screen…then I was waiting for someone upstairs on if they’d seen it or not.” It’s a fair statement that this all happened quickly. But, the evidence wasn’t going to be on the screen. It was in plain sight as the white-clad visitors were desperately scrambling to get a snap off. And, it’s difficult to imagine the on-field staffer wasn’t screaming for the red challenge flag, The Eagles scored two plays later. That one is on Ron.
To rub salt in the wound things would reverse later in the game. On third down with 2:20 left the WFT faced third down. Howell hit Jahan Dotson with enough yardage for first down. The Back Judge signaled for a completed pass. The chains started moving. TV coverage showed first and ten. Then things got weird. After a long delay the Referee declared the pass incomplete. Ron challenged and lost. Facing fourth down Howell hit his X receiver Terry McLaurin in the hands, which he promptly dropped. The Eagles scored quickly putting the game out of reach.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the on-field officials didn’t change their call. The New York Command Center did. This was outside of two minutes remaining. Watching the replay was a bit of a Rorschach Test. The case either way could be made. Fox’s ex-referee happens to be the ex-VP of Officiating. Dean Blandino said that since the call on the field was incomplete there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn it. Even the television people were in the dark.
This was all a bit bizarre. If the film was inconclusive why did New York inject itself? The Command Center is there for obvious calls missed. (Like the DeVonta Smith call earlier which went untouched.) The old adage is that calls even out. In this case they were going to do so. But, the League intervened. Why? The lack of transparency is not a good look. The irony is that Blandino is the VP of Officiating for the minor league XFL. During their games he mans the Command Center. You can hear him talking to the referee. He then turns to a camera explaining the logic behind his decision. One may disagree. But, at least it’s all out in the open. The NFL should follow suit.
What Washington established in two games against Philadelphia is that they can play with them. They just can’t beat them.
Within 48 hours the team made one expected and one unexpected move. For weeks the speculation was that the team would trade EITHER Montez Sweat or Chase Young. Both were on expiring contracts. Any combination of extensions/Franchise Tag application would push the price tag for the Defensive Line to nearly $90 Million, an untenable 35% of the Salary Cap. The thinking by several respected football analysts was that the team would trade Young. Then this winter they could extend Sweat or apply the Franchise Tag to him. What no one saw coming was the Chicago Bears offering a high second round pick (~#35)for Montez. Then, late in the day the team also moved on from Young for a 3rd Round Compensatory Pick(~#95).
There’s been no shortage of tea leaf reading after these moves. So, let’s add to the glut. Young was always going. Lost behind his production numbers of 5 sacks and 12 solo tackles was his penchant for losing containment. His play on film was an expose in lack of discipline. Sweat was the keeper. But, a top-35 pick was a strong inducement to move him. There are two forms of capital in the NFL; Draft Picks and Cap Space. Tuesday’s moves gave Washington a serious boost in both coffers. It was less of a “Fire Sale” than it was a shrewd set of transactions.
The moves also brought Ron Rivera’s future to the forefront. Long-time NFL Executive Pat Kirwan recalled running into a League Head Coach whose team had just moved a number of players. When asked how he was taking it the coach replied, “I’m developing the Quarterback for the next coach.” It wasn’t Ron. But, he could say that in confidence to someone now. The list of lamentations about Ron is lengthy. But, grant him this; he’s the prototypical “Good Soldier.” When he came to take over a Cavalry Regiment he ended up mucking stalls. He took more bullets for the former owner than one can count. After grasping desperately for a QB1 he finally got one that’s starting to bloom. Although, it’s probably too late for him to be around to enjoy it.
After all that, there’s a game this week. New England is a struggling team cast as the favorite. Bill Belichick brought in Bill O’Brien to get QB1 Mac Jones back into good form. Against baffling Buffalo in Week #7 Jones was brilliant. It was an outlier. O’Brien has a lot more work to do. This is very winnable game. The overarching question is how Washington will respond after this stormy week. Taking two stars out of the mix is not an easy sell to the remaining troops. How well did Ron sell it? There are those that stick hat pins in their Ron Rivera dolls wanting an immediate firing. It says here he will get through the season unless the team quits on him. Forget the Locker Room kumbaya quotes. This week on the field will provide the first meaningful indication of whether they will or not.