LANDOVER, Md. — The Washington Commanders couldn’t beat the New York Giants in two meetings or the Chicago Bears. They have left themselves one choice to both turn the season around and save jobs: beat teams that are even better.
With six games remaining, the Commanders (4-7) have passed the easier part of their schedule. The Bears and Giants have combined for six wins so far — three have come against Washington.
Up next: the Dallas Cowboys, twice, starting Thursday; the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers — a trio of teams with a combined record of 21-9. That’s why Washington’s 31-19 loss Sunday to the Giants felt more like a dagger to their season, leaving the Commanders in too deep of a hole to recover.
“It is a low point, that’s for sure,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. New owner Josh Harris has said he wanted to give the football staff the entire season so he could better evaluate them, then make a decision on their futures. On Friday, Rivera said he hasn’t thought about his job security. He said he was “confident and comfortable” with what he has done since being hired as Washington’s coach in 2020.
But the Commanders did not have much success in his first three years — going a combined 22-27-1 — to stave off talk about his future. It did not help Sunday that the Commanders’ defense, which recorded nine sacks, allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more to the Giants. New York had six such plays in the previous three games combined.
The Giants have only 35 such plays this season — and 15 have come in two games against the Commanders, a byproduct of blown coverages and poor communication.
“My big disappointment is that we haven’t played as well on defense as we’ve needed to. Does that make my job security shaky? It could,” Rivera said Friday. “I have no idea what Mr. Harris is going to do. The truth is, it’s the nature of the game. I get it. If it happens, it happens. If I stay, I stay. Until then we will continue to work.”
Rivera has been through this before; in 2019 he was fired by Carolina with four games remaining. It’s why he said he’s not focused on his job status.
“I understand what it takes. I understand what you have to deal with. I understand what your responsibilities are. So what I try to do is just focus in on what’s important today, and that’s really just preparing to get ready for Dallas.”
Players are aware of the situation, with one saying privately that they’re aware Rivera’s job status is on the line — and trending poorly. But, the player said, they must avoid focusing on it.
Others say it’s not as simple to blame one group or another.
“I don’t think it’s fair to call out only the players or the coaches,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. “I think coaches and players equally have a hand and are responsible for what’s going on out in the field. It’s definitely not how we envisioned our season going. … We’re 4-7 and that’s the team we put on film. That’s who we are until we clean up the things that we’re doing and become more consistent and learn how to win.”
Because they haven’t figured it out, they’ll continue to hear about the security of their coaches.
“We don’t really pay attention and stuff like that,” quarterback Sam Howell said. “I know that we have everything in this organization that we need to be successful. It’s just a matter of we got to go out there and do it every day and get the results. We haven’t done that this year.”
And that’s why Washington has struggled. In each of the past three years the Commanders recovered from bad stretches to contend for the playoffs late into the season. In 2020 they were 2-7 and won five of their next seven to win the NFC East. In ’21 they went from 2-6 to 6-6 only to win one of their last five. And last season they went 1-4 then 6-1-1 in the ensuing eight games, before losing three of their last four to finish the season. This season, they’ve given no reason to believe a turnaround is possible. They’ve lost seven of their last nine games. Though Howell remains hopeful.
“We’re definitely capable of it,” said Howell, who threw three interceptions Sunday. “We just got to fix it, you know, and it starts with me, and I got to do a better job of giving this team chances to win.”
Washington entered the season expecting its defense to build off a season in which it finished third in yards and seventh in points. Instead, the Commanders are last in scoring and 29th in yards. Meanwhile, the offense has improved — going from 20th in yards and 26th in points last year to 12th and 15th, respectively.
The improvement on one side of the ball hasn’t been enough to offset the drop in the other. Besides, the Washington offense turned the ball over five times Sunday — the last of which gave New York a pick-six in the final seconds.
“One game the offense plays good, the next game defense plays good,” Allen said. “It sucks. There’s not too much to say.”
And that leads to games like Sunday.
“This one hurts a lot,” receiver Jahan Dotson said. “The stakes you had on the line, we win some games and things go our way you never know where you can be at the end of the season. But hurting ourselves like this against teams I feel we should beat, it’s tough.”
Because they couldn’t do so, Washington is stuck in a situation where the final six games could bring more chatter about the future of the staff than about on-field performance. Receiver Terry McLaurin said the players can take only one approach.
“It’s frustrating,” McLaurin said. “I’m frustrated, we’re all frustrated, but we have to channel that to figure out how you can be part of the solution.”