Ron Rivera bet on the wrong quarterback: Carson Wentz


Ron Rivera wanted this moment. He traded for his quarterback specifically for this moment. This week, he reinserted his quarterback as the starter, hoping, wishing and praying that he would be confident and ready enough to perform at this moment. And that plan failed.

The most consequential moment in Rivera’s three years as Washington’s coach came down to the quarterback of his choosing. He was the — ahem — effing guy who wanted Carson Wentz. He was this broken quarterback’s greatest defender, starting in March when he committed draft capital for the services of Wentz and continuing to this past week when he benched Taylor Heinicke for Sunday’s must-win game against the Cleveland Browns.

Rivera bet on himself, that his offseason gamble would come back and reap the rewards of a postseason berth. And that decision failed.

The riverboat he rolled into town three years ago is sinking. And Rivera’s idea of ​​saving the season, his team’s chances and, shoot, maybe his job was to ask Wentz to hand out floaties – which he promptly threw away for three interceptions.

After Washington went winless in its previous three games but when it still had a playoff berth within its grasp, Rivera wanted a “spark” and turned to Wentz. But during the Commanders’ 24-10 loss to the Browns, Wentz looked uncomfortable in the pocket and unreliable as a starting quarterback in the NFL. His first pass attempt sailed over the head of running back Jonathan Williams. And that might go down as one of his better passes of the day.

The entire league knows the scarlet letter on Wentz’s scouting report: He holds the ball too dang long. Rivera has known that as well, we should assume, because it was his call to resuscitate Wentz’s career and bring him to town. After one season, the Indianapolis Colts soured on Wentz, choosing a quickie divorce after back-to-back losses to end last season costing the team a playoff berth. But the Colts’ giveaway was Rivera’s gold, as he so passionately expressed after the last time Wentz won a game as his starter.

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“I’m the f—ing guy who pulled out the sheets of paper, who looked at the analytics, who watched the tape. … Okay? And that’s what pisses me off, because the young man doesn’t deserve to have that all the time,” Rivera said after the Commanders’ Week 6 win.

Look, I have nothing against Wentz. He has been an easy target to pile on, and some media members in his previous stops (Philadelphia, then Indianapolis) have ripped him for matters that have nothing to do with football. And there’s something morally messed-up when fans in No. 4 jerseys can celebrate Deshaun Watson, of all people, while Wentz has to jog off the field with his head down as home fans pepper him with boos.

But as nice of a “young man” as Wentz, 30, may be, he is damaged goods on the football field. And Rivera should’ve known that when he was the — sorry, kids — effing guy who watched tape on Wentz, then made the decision to trade for him.

After his performance – 16 for 28 for 143 yards with three picks and three sacks – Wentz dressed in the corner stall that belongs to the team’s starting quarterback. He pulled on his cowboy boots and grabbed his burgundy undershirt, one that perfectly matches the team colors. He certainly looked the part of the quarterback Rivera has believed him to be. Those measurements make you salivate: a 6-foot-5 frame and 10-inch hands that allowed him to stretch the ball over the goal line and cap a 21-play, 96-yard drive to end the first half Sunday. But beyond the surface of his physical abilities and his résumé, Wentz exhibits the body language of a broken quarterback.

His second pass attempt of the game was a force to Terry McLaurin when a force was completely unnecessary. After his second interception, when he threw into double coverage when Williams was open for the safe, check-down option, fans started the “Hein-ick-e! Hein-ick-e!” chants. Throughout the game, they continued to comfort themselves with this plea. And judging from Browns linebacker Reggie Ragland, the Heinicke fan club still runs deep in the Washington locker room.

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“If you know football, you know [Wentz] has a slow release. And you know Heinicke gets the ball out fast,” Ragland said after the game. “Some of the guys I know on the team, they would have preferred Heinicke because they know he gets the ball out. You can see it on film, too, though. They play differently with each quarterback.”

Wentz spent the rest of the day ducking for cover, making panicked decisions and missing his targets. Near the end, while back on the sideline after another pick, Wentz wiped his sweat but kept the towel over his face a little longer. No longer walking the sideline and fist-pumping the teammates he was letting down, Wentz put on a white hat and shoved those big paws of his into hand warmers.

“We drove the ball in that last possession in the first half, and we just felt we’d be able to sustain something like that again,” Rivera said of Wentz’s performance, “and we just didn’t do it.”

Washington (7-8-1) is now guaranteed not to have a winning record for the sixth straight season. All of this was supposed to change, particularly this year, Rivera’s third. It was a significant year because the team should have grown past the stage of establishing a culture and identity. Add in a bruising interior defense, a young and talented corps of offensive weapons and Rivera’s chosen quarterback, and the Commanders should have made a leap to compete for a playoff spot. This past week, when hope was still high, Rivera spoke about the possibility of making the playoffs this season.

“I think the value more than anything else … for me, it’s to you guys: Gotcha,” Rivera said, trying to gently dunk on reporters. Meaning: In your face, big bad media! We made the playoffs despite being the most dysfunctional franchise in the league!

Unfortunately for Rivera, the real gotcha moment came Sunday.

By the time he walked onto the field to shake the hand of Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski, he was serenaded by the boos of angry fans. Miles away in Detroit, the Lions were taking care of business and fulfilling half of the doomsday scenario. Wins by the Lions and Packers, who played later in the afternoon, along with a Commanders loss would end Washington’s wild-card hopes.

Yet when a reporter asked Rivera if he would consider starting Sam Howell in the regular season finale if Washington were eliminated by the end of the day, Rivera froze. He stared at the reporter while considering this possibility in silence for three very long, very awkward seconds.

“We could be eliminated?” Rivera asked seriously, completely unaware of this scenario.

In the most critical moment of his time as Washington’s coach, Rivera did not realize how dire Sunday’s game was. He traded for Wentz. He started Wentz. He trusted his quarterback when the team needed him the most. And it all failed.

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