Being a Washington fan has not been easy the past couple of years. Described as “frustrating,” “disappointing,” and “painful to watch,” the Washington Football Team has rarely been a team to be optimistic about, that was until this season.
Despite finishing the season with a lackluster 6-9 record, many Washington fans at Freeman are entering next season with a sense of optimism for the future of the team.
Coming off a 3-13 record last year, many fans did not enter the 2020 season with high hopes. “My expectations weren’t too high because we had a new coach and a young team […] I didn’t think we would make the playoffs,” said junior Barry Jones.
In early 2020, the team hired former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera to revive the program. “I think he is just an absolute perfect addition to the team [….] he’s a winner,” said junior Owen Fallen.
Rivera had his work cut out for him this season as he navigated coronavirus restrictions, sexual harassment allegations against former players and staff, and a team name change. Rivera was then diagnosed with skin cancer in August. “Ron Rivera has gained my respect this season […] he managed to lead Washington to the playoffs all while battling cancer the entire time,” said junior Spencer Cox, adding that “his off the field battle with cancer helped to inspire the rest of the team.”
With second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins starting out the season, Washington fans were cautiously optimistic. “I thought Dwayne Haskins was going to prove to be our franchise quarterback,” said junior Ian Donnellan. However, following poor performance on the field and incidents off the field, Haskins was released. “I was very disappointed. His season went almost the exact opposite way I anticipated,” said Donnellan. Junior Max Sanne expressed similar sentiments, saying that “Dwayne Haskins was terrible. He underperformed on the field and was a distraction off the field. I think it was a smart decision by Rivera to cut him before the season ended.”
After Haskins’s “terrible” performance, Alex Smith stepped up to lead the team, a surprise following his devastating leg injury in the 2018 season. “My favorite moment from the season was definitely when Alex Smith stepped onto the field to take his first snap after his injury,” said Sanne.
Following Smith’s additional injuries, new quarterback Taylor Heinicke, stepped up late in the season. Heinicke was a former Old Dominion University quarterback who was in the process of finishing his engineering degree when he received a call from Washington. Heinicke had to ask his professors if he could postpone his college exams while he fulfilled his dream of starting in the NFL.
Heineicke did not disappoint and kept the NFC wildcard game competitive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Taylor Heinicke’s performance in the playoffs was incredible. Despite losing the game, he put up one of the best QB performances from a Washington QB I have seen in years, going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady,” said Spencer Cox, with other students calling Heinicke’s performance “impressive,” “surprising,” “fearless,” and “impeccable.”
Owen Fallen related to Heinicke’s late-season success on a more personal level, stating, “As a backup QB, he proved that if you work hard you will get your chance to prove yourself.” Fallen added that “Heinicke has impacted a lot of other kids, who, just like him, are waiting their shot to prove themselves.”
Unfortunately, the future for Heinicke, and Washington’s QB roster, is uncertain. Among students, however, one thing is certain: Washington must bring in an experienced QB.
“After Heinicke’s performance, I think he deserves a chance, but I’m not super confident that he has the experience to be a starting QB in the NFL,” said Jones. Instead, many students recommended trading for an experienced QB such as Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, or Matthew Stafford.
The upcoming draft proves to be a key opportunity for finding the missing elements of the team, after all “Washington is one or two players away from being a really good team,” claims Donnellan. On offense, most students were unanimous for drafting a wide receiver to add depth at the position. “Washington definitely need[s] to use an early draft pick on a second wide receiver to compliment Terry McLaurin,” said Donnellan, with Jones recommending that “we should look at wideouts like Jaylen Waddle.”
On defense, most students thought that the team should draft a linebacker. “A strong inside linebacker would solidify this defense as a top three defense,” said Donnellan.
For the first time in years, many students seem genuinely optimistic for the season ahead, with most predicting a 10-6 record with a “serious” playoff run. However, Washington critics like Spencer Cox warn, “I see the NFC East being a tight race between Washington and the Cowboys behind a healthy Dak Prescott.” Nevertheless, more optimistic fans like Donnellan say, “It’s definitely possible to not only make the playoffs, but make a serious run as well.”