Twenty years ago this month, Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora famously issued his colorful dismissal of the team’s playoff hopes after it fell to 4-6 on the season: “Playoffs? Don’t talk about … playoffs? You kidding me?”
Well, with the very same record that set Mora off on his famous rant, Washington coach Ron Rivera isn’t kidding.
“If we’re fortunate enough to take care of our business and get to the second week of December where we play five straight division games, we have a chance,” Rivera said Monday, via the Washington Post. “So we’ll have an opportunity if we continue to play well and give ourselves that opportunity to get to the second week of December. … At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you get in.”
Rivera’s optimism springs from back-to-back wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers to lift the club out of the NFC East cellar. The wild-card standings certainly suggest that optimism is well-placed because were the postseason to begin this week, two 5-5 clubs would take NFC wild-card berths.
Rivera said the WFT can “use the division” for a playoff push, referring to an upcoming stretch of five consecutive NFC East games. After playing the Seattle Seahawks this Monday and the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 13, Washington will finish the regular season with two games against the Cowboys, two against the Eagles, and one with the Giants. A pair against the division-leading Cowboys might seem daunting, but the aggregate winning percentage of Washington’s remaining opponents is .486. Rivera also is encouraged by what he’s seen from quarterback Taylor Heinicke, comparing his growth as a team leader to the leadership the club got from Alex Smith last season as it won the division despite a 7-9 record.
“Alex was a consummate leader, and you see those things starting to develop as far as Taylor is concerned,” Rivera said. “What is interesting for Taylor after what he did last year, for the most part guys have gravitated toward him because they felt with this guy that we have a chance. I think now you not only see him giving these guys hope and believe that we have a chance, but he is leading them. Very similar in style to the way that I thought Alex did.”
In an era when six teams per conference, not seven, earned playoff berths, Mora’s 2001 team finished as its coach predicted — 6-10 and out of the playoffs.
Rivera, however, is choosing to carry an entirely different outlook.
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