What did the Commanders’ 34-31 overtime loss to the Eagles do?
It changed the conversation about this team, from gloomy to gritty. It may have finally given some meaning to the incessant “opportunities” that coach Ron Rivera talks about. It restored some credibility to their young quarterback, Sam Howell. That’s quite a lot to have accomplished in a loss.
Yes, they lost, but not all losses are the same. You can’t be black and white here. They lost the previous week, 37-3 to the Buffalo Bills, and that loss didn’t accomplish anything except to embarrass everyone involved.
No one left Philadelphia on Sunday embarrassed. Angry, maybe, at a lost “opportunity” that, to be honest, few expected to be there. But it’s a different conversation now about this team and its possibilities, even more so than their two wins over Arizona and Denver the first two weeks of the season.
That conversation should please offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. He wasn’t crazy about the conversation last week. He opted to do his talking on the field Sunday.
The conversation about Bieniemy seems to be tied to the conversation about Howell.
After Buffalo, their failures were shared failures. The story was the beating Howell took in that game — nine sacks — and how Bieniemy’s playcalling put him at risk.
Howell hardly came away unscathed Sunday against the Eagles, under constant pressure and sacked four times. But the play-calling — a shorter, quicker passing attack — also put him in position to make the throws he can make under pressure, and he made them. He was 29 of 51 for 290 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Bieniemy needed that because his performance last week before reporters had ruffled some feathers.
It was comical to watch Bieniemy, in his appearance following the loss where they scored just three points and Howell threw four interceptions. It was Belichickian at times:
Question: How can Bieniemy help Howell take fewer sacks?
Bieniemy: You keep playing and you figure it out.
Question: Are 19 sacks through three games taking a physical toll on the offense?
Bieniemy: I didn’t even know it was 19 sacks until you said that. My job is to be the coach and continue staying the course with our offense.
Question: What he has learned to adjust with Howell to judge the offensive line’s performance?
Bieniemy: I think we’re three weeks into the season and we are still discovering who we are as a unit.
You can get away with this when your team is 2-1 early in the season. If they were 6-9 after 15 games, this act would have long soured. And if your job is to write about this team, it leaves you without much ink in your pen.
But now it was humorous, because everyone is used to his boss, Rivera, who seems to be one step away from reading the Declaration of Independence in his press conferences. You can’t shut him up.
After the loss to the Bills, Rivera basically told everyone who had a problem with him having a 22-27-1 record after three years to stick a sock in it, in response to this simple question:
Question: What does the team do during the week to improve consistency?
Rivera: The biggest thing that you do, first of all, is you want to make sure everybody’s back. They bounce back, they come out and have energy, and they had it on Wednesday, so you felt, OK, they’ve gotten over this. Now you look for how they practice. In terms of the technical aspects are they doing the little detailed things? Are they seeing the little detailed things that they need to see? And did we do it on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Those are all things that you’re looking for and you’re hoping that that’s coming along. You never really know until you play on Sundays. That’s really the biggest test that you have. Until there’s a consistency in doing things, a consistency in winning, you’re still developing, you’re still growing. I know people talk about the process, the process, the process. Well, it is part of the process. [Expletive], this is my fourth year. Do I have a different quarterback? Yes, we do. But again, some people just can’t get past the fact that it’s my fourth year, which I understand. I respect that. We just got to go out, practice hard, play hard, develop, grow, and hopefully win.
How dare “some people” expect more in his fourth season.
Bieniemy waited until Sunday in Philadelphia to do his talking. It’s a language Commanders fans aren’t used to. It can be a difficult one to master. It requires the consistency that seems to offend Rivera.
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.