By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer
The scoreboard indicates the Washington Commanders won on Thursday night. The standings will show they kept their fading hopes in the NFC East alive. That should’ve made this a good day for all of them.
But the reality? It was anything but.
No matter how they tried to spin it after the game was over, there was very little for the Commanders to feel good about after their 12-7 win in Chicago. It was an awful display of football and a setback for them in almost every conceivable way. It left them with far more questions about their team than answers.
It was just the capper on a day that began with more turmoil for the most troubled, dysfunctional franchise in the NFL — if not in all of sports. Earlier in the day, ESPN published a scathing report about Commanders owner Dan Snyder and how he was collecting “dirt” on his fellow owners and threatening to “blow up” the league if they tried to force him to sell the franchise. The report also included the juicy tidbit that he pushed for the offseason trade for quarterback Carson Wentz over the objection of his football people.
It’s unclear why anyone would want to take credit for the Wentz trade after he was outplayed by Chicago’s Justin Fields and completed just 12 of 22 passes for an abysmal 99 yards in this “win”. But that last point really seemed to tick off Commanders coach Ron Rivera, who defended his quarterback — and insisted it really was his quarterback — before storming off the podium after the game.
“Everybody keeps saying I didn’t want anything to do with Carson. Well, bulls—t,” Rivera said. “I’m the f—ing guy that pulled out the sheets of paper, that looked at the analytics, that watched the tape. That’s what pisses me off. Because the young man doesn’t deserve to have that all the time.”
Well, those weren’t the words or the tone of a coach reveling in victory. It’s more of a sign of the frustration Rivera has to be feeling after a really difficult week. Remember, it was only four days ago that he ignited a firestorm and created unwanted headlines when he was asked why the Commanders had fallen so far behind the other teams in the NFC East and he answered “quarterback” before taking a very long pause.
His quarterback was a big problem on Thursday night, but Wentz was far from the only one. Commanders receiver Curtis Samuel had at least three clear drops, including one on what should have been a 40-yard touchdown pass that went right through his hands. The Commanders’ crumbling offensive line got Wentz sacked three more times, putting him on pace to be sacked a ridiculous 65 times this season (yes, really). They managed just 214 total yards and 128 rushing yards against a Bears defense that was giving up 170 rushing yards per game.
There were also bad penalties, like the false start on 3rd-and-goal from the Chicago 5 early in the fourth quarter, when the Commanders looked like they were on the verge of taking the lead with a touchdown, but instead settled for a field goal that left them in a 7-6 hole.
“It’s never easy,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “Especially when you do silly stuff.”
Silly stuff and bad stuff was the entire repertoire in this awful game. And let’s be serious: The only reason they won is because Bears rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. made one of the worst attempts at catching a punt in NFL history in the fourth quarter, dropping to his knees and apparently losing sight of the ball as it hit him in the facemask. That happened with 8:06 left in the game, and the Commanders recovered his fumble at the Chicago 6-yard line.
It was really the Commanders’ most effective offensive play of the game.
They scored two plays later, on a 1-yard run by rookie running back Brian Robinson — a great story considering he was shot in the leg in an attempted car-jacking two months ago. In fact, for any other franchise on any other night, that would’ve been the story of the game.
But even that feel-good moment couldn’t overshadow the rest of the Commanders’ mess.
At this point, is there anything that can?
“It’s been hard, it really has,” an angry Rivera said about his team. “You lose four games in a row and everybody wants to get on you. And they played their asses off. They have. They play their asses off for everybody. They come out and they show up, they work hard, they don’t complain. They hear all this stuff and they’ve got to deal with it.”
Dealing with it comes with the territory in Washington, where a cloud of controversy will hover over them as long as Snyder is their owner. It would be a lot easier, of course, if they were winning. But they didn’t look capable of winning many games the way they played in Chicago. And Wentz didn’t look capable of winning many games for them, regardless of who wanted to trade for him back in March.
Wentz said this was a “huge” win. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said it was “a step in the right direction.” And sure, being 2-4 is better than 1-5 in a division where no one else has more than one loss so far.
But the Commanders didn’t look like a team ready to use this win as a springboard to the rest of their season. They looked like a team overwhelmed by controversy, frustrated by their own limitations and incapable of playing well.
“We’ll take a win, especially with the skid we were on, by any means necessary,” Wentz said. “It feels good.”
Does it? Yes, it was a win for a franchise that sure could use one. But the whole day just looked and felt like more of a loss.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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