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Washington coach Ron Rivera optimistic of playoff push with upcoming schedule: 'We have a chance'

11/23/2021 5:47:21 PM
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After the Washington Football Team’s win at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Coach Ron Rivera lauded his players’ resilience and cohesiveness. He, as well as the players, cited attention to detail in recent practices, the elimination of some mistakes and trust in a quarterback who, months earlier, wasn’t supposed to be the starter.

A year after using the NFC East race as a carrot for a midseason turnaround and a push for the playoffs, Washington is again feeling renewed hope that maybe, just maybe, it has the juice to achieve something similar this season. After winning two straight games, over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Panthers, Washington is 4-6 and in third place in the NFC East. But it sits among a clump of teams that remain within reach of the final NFC wild-card spot — which Rivera said he would happily accept, Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post reports.

“But we can also use the division, because if we’re fortunate enough to take care of our business and get to the second week of December where we play five straight division games, we have a chance,” he said Monday during a conference call with reporters. “... So we’ll have an opportunity if we continue to play well and give ourselves that opportunity to get to the second week of December. … At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you get in."

But unlike last season, Washington’s chances hinge not on a 16-year veteran quarterback, Alex Smith, but on a player with only 11 career starts. Taylor Heinicke, the unlikely hero again for Washington, is coming off two of his finest performances and has his team thinking big.

Rivera even sees a bit of Smith in him, despite a different play style and personality.

“Alex was a consummate leader, and you see those things starting to develop as far as Taylor is concerned,” Rivera said. “What is interesting for Taylor after what he did last year, for the most part guys have gravitated toward him because they felt with this guy that we have a chance. I think now you not only see him giving these guys hope and believe that we have a chance, but he is leading them. Very similar in style to the way that I thought Alex did.”

“I’m not saying this guy is going to be a Hall of Famer, but again, if this guy continues to manage and direct and then make plays when we need them, that’s what I’ve always said we’re hoping to get out of this — a guy that can do that,” Rivera said. “… We were fortunate where we got a lot of that last year, and we’re hoping to build off of what we got right now, and we’ll see what happens.”

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