Let me start with this. It is an incredible accomplishment that the Washington Commanders are even in this position.
One of the NFL’s biggest surprises in 2022, the Commanders have dealt with more adversity than any team in the playoff picture and they control their own destiny with just two games to play.
The team started 1-4, the rookie starting running back was shot a month before the first game, the best player on defense has played in one game all year, there’s been a quarterback controversy all season, and there have been nonstop off-the-field issues surrounding the team’s owner.
AND STILL, if the Commanders win the final two home games against Cleveland and Dallas, they’re in the postseason.
On August 28, rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was taken to the hospital after suffering multiple gunshot wounds in a carjacking in D.C. Amazingly, the Alabama product was out of the hospital within days and made his NFL debut on October 9 against Tennessee, before scoring his first NFL touchdown the following week against Chicago, which proved to be the deciding score.
In the front office, owner Dan Snyder has been a focal point of controversy within the Commanders organization for years, which came to a head in early December after a 79-page report was released by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“We saw efforts that we have never seen before, at least I haven’t,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, who chaired the committee. “The NFL knew about it, and they took no responsibility.”
The “it” referenced essentially involves a longtime toxic work culture that Snyder “permitted and participated in,” according to the report. The team owner also obstructed a congressional inquiry by dodging a subpoena and intimidating witnesses from cooperating with authorities.
The investigation is ongoing but it is looking more and more likely that Snyder will have no choice but to finally sell the team, something that Commanders fans have been clamoring for for years.
With all the problems off the field, injuries to players like Brian Robinson and star defensive end Chase Young, the Commanders hobbled out of the gate, starting 1-4 through five games.
In Week 6, Washington took a trip to Chicago for a Thursday night matchup with the Bears. In what turned out to be one of the least watchable NFL games of the regular season, the Commanders got a much-needed 12-7 win, which has seemingly turned out to be a turning point in the season.
In the game, quarterback Carson Wentz fractured his ring finger on his throwing hand, which placed him on injured-reserve.
After the game, head coach Ron Rivera defended his quarterback, who had faced
criticism throughout the season and rumors that the head coach never wanted him in Washington in the first place. Rivera didn’t like that.
Thus entered quarterback Taylor Heinicke. The Commanders just kept winning with Heinicke running the show, coming out on top in five of his first six starts after taking over for Wentz.
All of the sudden, Washington was 7-5 and very much in the mix for the postseason.
Wentz was now healthy but Rivera opted to stick with Heinicke. When asked why, Rivera said “winning.”
In Week 13, Washington tied the Giants 20-20 and have since dropped two straight games to New York and to San Francisco.
Now, with just two games to go in a “control your own destiny” situation, Rivera is making a quarterback change again.
Photo: CommandersWire/ USAToday
“I’m looking for a bit of a spark,” Rivera said Wednesday after announcing the decision. “Again, at the end of the day, the decision is going to be made based on what I believe is best for us going forward and I think gives us the best opportunity right now.”
Heinicke was benched in the San Francisco game following an interception in the 4th quarter with the Commanders trailing 27-14.
Wentz came into the game and led an 11-play touchdown drive to make it 30-20 but by the time he got the ball back down 17 points, it was much too late.
Despite the fact that the Commanders haven’t won a game in a month and with all of the adversity they’ve gone through this season, the chance at the postseason is right in front of them.
“Nothing’s changed, we’re still in the same situation we were in going into this,” Rivera said following the 37-20 loss to San Francisco. “We control our own destiny. We win the next two, we give ourselves a chance, so that’s up to us.”
Two games at home. First up, Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns. If Washington can get past Cleveland, they’ll just have to take down the Dallas Cowboys, who will likely have the 5-seed locked up and would therefore be resting key players.
So close, yet so far. But just as I started, let me finish by saying it is an incredible accomplishment that the Washington Commanders are even in this position.