Ron Rivera prepares COs for ‘playoff atmosphere’ on the stretch


For the second time in three weeks, Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera has changed his team’s schedule to give his players more time off. Rivera met with player executives and decided to add an extra day to the week off by replacing Monday (when players normally come in for treatment) with Tuesday (the usual day off). Rivera said he was ready to trust his players as he was “very pleased” with their maturity and time management, including in late November when he rearranged the schedule to give them Thanksgiving and that they went on to defeat Atlanta.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the commanders reconvened in their facility’s auditorium. Rivera briefed his team ahead of what will be one of the most important games of his three-year tenure. Washington (7-5-1) will face the New York Giants (7-5-1) on “Sunday Night Football” at home, two weeks after tying them on the road. The implications are immense: if Washington wins, his playoff odds skyrocket to 91%, according to FiveThirtyEight, and if he loses, they drop to just 34%.

“It’s … playoff atmosphere for the next four weeks,” Rivera said Tuesday. “And hopefully for the next nine. [That] would be cool.

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Rivera seemed optimistic about the health of the team despite a long list of injuries. Linebacker Jamin Davis underwent surgery for a minor thumb injury and “should be fine,” Rivera said. Defensive ends Montez Sweat and James Smith-Williams are still in concussion protocol, but Rivera said they have progressed “toward the end” and are scheduled to practice Tuesday or Wednesday. Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (ankle), who hasn’t played since Week 11, had “a good day of treatment and work,” which Rivera considered “a huge plus.” Right tackle Sam Cosmi (ankle), running back Antonio Gibson (foot) and right guard Trai Turner (leg) will continue to receive treatment.

“Good timing for a bye,” Rivera said.

If Turner can play, Washington could replace center Tyler Larsen (kneecap), who he placed on the disabled list on Monday, with either Wes Schweitzer or Nick Martin.

Rivera said defensive end Chase Young (knee), who COs have been playing a wait-and-see attitude with since he named him to return to practice Nov. 2, is “tending in the right direction.”

“Chase had a few good days,” Rivera added. “Last week he did a lot of work, then [I] saw him this morning. I had a great opportunity to speak with him. I think he’s in a good place right now, and I think he should have one [weeks] where it progresses and accelerates over the weekend.

On Monday, Washington activated quarterback Carson Wentz (finger) from injured reserve. The week before the bye, Rivera said, Wentz pitched with receivers and “looked good.” If all goes according to plan, he added, Wentz will be the team’s primary backup for Sunday’s game, meaning rookie quarterback Sam Howell will likely be inactive.

During the week off, the team worked on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Some players took the weekend off to go home or go on vacation, but Rivera said “a number of guys” still came on Thursday and Friday. The team closed the facility on Saturday and Sunday, and although the players had negotiated a Monday off, Rivera said about half, if not more, of them had entered. On Tuesday, some young players had a lesson with Director of Player Engagement Malcolm Blacken. and some veterans arrived early for their first lift of the week. Rivera thought the team seemed mentally ready to return to their regular gameweek routine on Wednesday.

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Rivera said he outlined the important issues for this week to his team during Tuesday’s meeting. Dallas (10-3) is in pole position for the No. 5 seed, and Washington, which currently holds the No. 6 seed, will likely have to fend off New York, Seattle (7-6) and Detroit (6- 7) for one of the final two playoff spots. A victory for the Commanders would be a devastating blow to the Giants: if New York wins on Sunday, its chance of making the playoffs would be 86%, according to FiveThirtyEight, and if it loses, only 27%.

The Giants, winless in five of their last six games, lost 48-22 to Philadelphia last week and are one of Washington’s weakest remaining opponents. In fact, in winning percentage, Washington is tied for the fifth toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. He still has to evolve in San Francisco (9-4) and receive Dallas to end the season.

“It’s an opportunity, and we have to focus on it,” Rivera said.

It will be key, Rivera pointed out, to do a better job containing quarterback Daniel Jones. Washington focused on stopping Jones on the ground in his final defensive game plan – then allowed him 12 rush attempts for 71 yards in the 20-20 draw.

In the commanders’ facility, Rivera said, no one is focused on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s final report, which was released last Thursday after a nearly 14-month investigation. Rivera said he wasn’t even in the area when he fell because he had moved back to Northern California to spend time with his father. Rivera’s mother died Oct. 31 after battling stage 4 lung cancer.

“When this all came out, I just said, ‘Well, cool. Alright here we go,” Rivera said, pointing out that every time a major off-pitch report or story has come out this season, the team has responded with a strong performance, like winning the week 6 against Chicago.

“We focus on what is important,” he added. “We will continue to prepare for the Giants.”


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