High stakes ‘Rivera Bowl’ pits Washington vs. Carolina
Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera has not been interested in discussing his personal ties to this week’s opponent.
He has bigger things to worry about, like a team that has something large at stake.
Washington has a chance to clinch the NFC East title Sunday, requiring the club to take care of business against the Carolina Panthers in a home game at Landover, Md.
Rivera spent almost nine full seasons, including one Super Bowl appearance, as coach of the Panthers until his firing during the 2019 season.
This week, he clarified the theme to this weekend’s game: “Winning and getting into the playoffs,” he said, “and not on Rivera getting revenge.”
Washington (6-8) must win and have the New York Giants lose at Baltimore in order to secure the division title. Otherwise, it will have another chance in the regular-season finale, when Washington visits Philadelphia.
“The consequences of this game is about this team, this organization, trying to be relevant and trying to take a step forward,” Rivera said. “I want to see us focus on the reasons why we want to win the game as opposed to a personal reason.”
Rivera’s impact is evident on both teams. His cancer battle this year was monitored closely in the locker room of the Panthers, who still abide by many of the coach’s philosophies.
“A lot of it still resonates,” cornerback Donte Jackson said. “His mantra is still something I hold myself to.”
Jackson says Rivera and first-year Panthers coach Matt Rhule have similar traits.
“They’re both real tough guys,” Jackson said. “They like to be around real tough guys.”
Carolina (4-10) has sputtered the past two months after an encouraging stretch early in the season. On Monday, Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was fired.
Washington is dealing with an off-field issue involving quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who apologized after pictures were revealed of him without a mask while at a gathering where strippers reportedly were present. NFL Network reported Haskins was fined $40,000 and his status as team captain was removed.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who has played during most of the team’s resurgence this season, could be ready to return from a calf injury after missing last week’s game. But Haskins took most of Wednesday’s practice repetitions.
Washington could receive a boost if running back Antonio Gibson (659 yards, 11 TDs) is ready to return after missing the last two games with a toe injury. He had touchdowns in his last five consecutive full games before going down.
Washington’s injuries might be more pronounced on defense, with veteran linebacker Mychal Kendricks signed off Seattle’s practice squad this week. Starting linebackers Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle) and Cole Holcomb (concussion) missed last week’s loss to the Seahawks before fill-in starter Shaun Dion Hamilton (elbow) ending up on injured reserve this week.
Carolina is 1-12 in its last 13 games in December. This year, narrow defeats have been troublesome with losses in eight of its last nine games.
“I just look forward to when those close losses become wins,” Rhule said. “You have to get better and better and better. It just takes time. There’s no shortcut to it.”
While the Panthers have had late-game woes, Washington aims for better beginnings.
“Too many times we’re playing catch-up football,” receiver Terry McLaurin said.
Panthers offensive lineman Dennis Daley was activated from reserve/injured list.
Each team has a top rookie on defense. End Chase Young is Washington’s first rookie Pro Bowl selection since 2012. Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn has shown knack for big plays.
–Field Level Media