The Philadelphia Eagles traded Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford and a first-round pick in exchange for Carson Wentz on Tuesday, sending shockwaves through the NFL world. Rivera says his team is ready to ascend past their rivals in New England and Pittsburgh after acquiring one of the most coveted quarterbacks in recent memory.
“Ron Rivera” is the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. After landing Carson Wentz, he said that “the commanders should be ascending.”
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – Since the completion of the 2021 season, Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera has emphasized the importance of the 2022 season. It’s his third year in Washington, and it was his third year in Carolina that he broke through.
The Commanders then acquired quarterback Carson Wentz, and this season became all about taking the next step. “Can they?” is no longer an issue. It’s now “They have to.” There is a distinct difference in pressure.
Rivera remarked of the pressure, “I absolutely feel it.” “This is the year that declares, ‘We are ascending.’ We should also be climbing.”
Rivera has risen to the occasion. With a 7-9 record in his first season, Washington won the NFC East. Last season, it began 0-6 with an underperforming defense before finishing 7-10.
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“What occurred my first year was a one-time occurrence,” Rivera said. “I don’t get too caught up in it; my second year was about on par, maybe a step back, because even though I thought we were immature, I was optimistic that we could straighten it out and work it out and go on.”
Year three, according to former Philadelphia Eagles club president Joe Banner, is the defining year for a regime.
“I’ve stated from the day they recruited Ron that I believed it was a very solid move, and I believe that will be proven in the end,” Banner said. “If you’re a [general manager] or head coach, I think Year 3 is when it starts to show up if you’ve been doing things correctly. This is the real deal. This is the year for those guys, especially Ron, to demonstrate that the foundation they’ve been creating is beginning to show on the field and that they’re starting to win a lot more games.”
Since 2016, Washington hasn’t ended with a winning record, and it hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005. In his first two seasons in Carolina, the Panthers went a combined 13-19 before going 12-4 in the third (2013). Cam Newton, a third-year quarterback who won the NFL MVP award in 2015, was a member of the 2013 club.
This summer, Rivera observed, “The third season is when you take another step.” “This region is starving for a winner. They are looking for a winner, and I am hoping to win.”
He’ll make an attempt with Wentz. He’s seen as an improvement in Washington, not only over Taylor Heinicke, who they like but see as a high-end backup, but also over the quarterback performance of the previous four seasons. Some NFL observers see Wentz as a danger, citing the fact that he has been moved twice in the last year. Regardless, Rivera’s future is now inextricably linked to the No. 2 overall choice in 2016.
Rivera said of getting Wentz, “It takes us a couple steps in the right path.”
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Coaches praised Wentz’s ability to throw the ball to all parts of the field while pursuing him. They also like him on slants and crosses, where his stature (6-foot-5) allows him to see above the line and fire quickly.
Rivera has discussed being prepared with receiver Terry McLaurin, who can win deep or on fast passes. Rivera said he’s spoken with defensive players who want for an offense that produces more points and provides them more opportunities to play with the ball in their hands. He’s spoken with offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who enthusiastically examines the footage and tells Rivera, “Isn’t that a nice ball he threw there? Look at how well he timed this pass.”
Rivera cites players like running back Antonio Gibson and quarterback Ryan McLaurin as reasons for increased offensive optimism now that Wentz is in the lineup. And, owing to a line that includes Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Darryl Payne, he believes the defense can still improve.
The Commanders must finally make their promises come true. For the time being, there is a fresh sense of optimism throughout the building.
“I’ve seen an increase in energy,” Rivera added. “There’s an eagerness in [Wentz’s] new teammates’ voices when I speak to them…. You can sense that energy jump.”
Because that third season drove the organization to greater prominence, Rivera spent almost nine full seasons in Carolina. The Panthers went 15-1 and lost in the Super Bowl two years after finishing 12-4 in his third season. They went on to win 11 games in the next two years. Since 1991, Washington hasn’t won more than ten games in a season.
“It’s all about winning how long you’re at a location,” Rivera added. “That is not going to change. If you’re successful you can enjoy a lovely, lengthy run. If you aren’t, then it’s time to go on. That is the essence of the matter.”
This season will give a clear sense of direction for Rivera and Washington.