Ron Rivera started his postgame locker room speech on Monday with two words: "Underdogs win."
Few people, if anyone, outside of those in the Washington Football Team locker room believed the Burgundy and Gold would go into Pittsburgh on Monday night and defeat the undefeated Steelers. That's exactly what they did, knocking off Pittsburgh 23-17 in Heinz Field.
Part of the reason Washington was able to leave the Steel City victorious was that Rivera has been able to get his team to buy into what he's preaching: that underdog mentality.
One day after the win, Rivera was asked how he's been able to get his players to buy into that mindset.
“Because they want to win and they’re used to winning, so to feel like—in my opinion—to get them to buy into being an underdog is that they’re disrespected," Rivera said. "That’s one of the things that I think resonates with these guys. These guys are used to being respected. These guys want to be respected. They don’t want to be a second thought. "
For many young players on the roster -- Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Terry McLaurin, and Chase Young are just a few examples -- playing in Washington has been the first time they haven't been on a winning team. Hailing from programs like Alabama and Ohio State, those teams rarely lose more than one game each season.
After a slow start to 2020, Washington has turned it around over the past three weeks. A trio of wins now has the Burgundy and Gold tied atop the NFC East with four games to go, meaning they'll be playing meaningful football the rest of the season. It's been a while since December games were meaningful ones in the nation's capital.
But as multiple players said following the win on Monday, they've felt this 2020 team has had potential since the season began.
“I knew it in camp," pass rusher Montez Sweat said. "When you look at the guys that we got on both sides of the ball and special teams, it’s just football. You know what you got on your team.”
Now, it's starting to come to fruition.
Ahead of Monday's game, Washington's digital media department put together a hype video with former linebacker and team captain London Fletcher doing a voice-over.
"The thing about the underdog is, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain," Fletcher said in the video.
Rivera said that the coaching staff sent that video to its players as they walked into the stadium, with the goal that the underdog mentality highlighted in the clip would resonate with the team as they shifted their mind to the game.
"We were just trying to reinforce to these guys that we are, in that situation, the underdog," Rivera said.
The video clearly worked. Washington played inspired football, especially in the second half, and limited the Pittsburgh offense to just three points over the final 30 minutes of football.
"One of the lines that I used with the guys was I told them: ‘Even as the underdog, I prepare a victory speech,'" Rivera said.
"So, what I did was I wrote on one of the flashcards that I use and take out with me in case something happens, I write it down. I jotted down: ‘Underdogs win.’ When we won the game and I went into the locker room and I pulled out the flip card, I said: ‘Let me read my flip card to you guys: Underdogs win."
The win over the Steelers was the biggest victory for Washington in years, but Rivera knows the task at hand is still out in front of his club. Washington has a division title, or maybe even a wild card spot, in reach and must continue to ascend as the season begins to wind down.
Rivera and his team won't be scoreboard watching, though. If the team takes care of their own business, everything else will fall into place.
"I told the guys: ‘Just understand this as we talk about it, we control our own destiny. We have to pay attention and focus in on us. Not what’s happening outside of us, but what happens with us.,'" Rivera said.
"That’s kind of the approach we’re going to use because going forward, we can’t count on anybody else winning or losing," the head coach said. "We have to count on us winning. That’s the thing that I think these guys are beginning to understand."