When Ron Rivera took over as the head coach of the Washington Football Team in January, he stated multiple times he wasn't going to take shortcuts in rebuilding the franchise's culture. It was always going to be a multi-year year process.
Yet, three-quarters into his first season as Washington's primary voice, the Burgundy and Gold have won three straight games. Washington's win over Pittsburgh on Monday was the team's biggest victory in at least four years. And now, with just four games to play, Rivera's club is tied for first place in the NFC East. Yes, it's with a 5-7 record. But the progress is evident.
Speaking with local media one day after his most impressive win so far in Washington, Rivera said he is proud of what his team has accomplished.
"Well, you know we’re headed in that direction. We’re trending that way," Rivera said Tuesday. "There are a lot of positives to take from that game."
Few expected Washington to compete in 2020, yet here it is playing meaningful games in December for the first time since 2017.
For Rivera, though, how his team responds to its current success will go a long way in terms of showing the head coach how far along the franchise is in its rebuilding process. The early success is nice, sure, but there is plenty more to achieve.
"Now we have to see how we handle this success, we really do," Rivera said. "Again, you can take a huge step forward, but if you’re not careful you can take two or three steps backward. That’s the thing that we have to be smart about as we’re building and going forward."
With just four games remaining, Washington has its work cut out. With the Giants owning the division tiebreaker, Washington will likely need to win at least two, maybe three, of its final four contests to secure the NFC East crown.
So, while Monday's win over Pittsburgh was a big step in the positive direction, Rivera wants to make sure his team knows what's lies ahead.
"We’ll have a little lesson today about humility," Rivera said. "I’ve got it all set on the PowerPoint and, because again, just because we won this game doesn’t mean we’re going to show up somewhere else and win automatically. We’ve got to earn it. That will be one thing that we will talk about."
With the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on deck and the 8-4 Seattle Seahawks looming after that, Washington has a tough stretch. As Rivera noted, a slip could easily happen if they get satisfied. Sure, the Burgundy and Gold have momentum following the upset in Pittsburgh, but things can quickly turn south if the team doesn't execute come next Sunday.
"We’re going to be tested," Rivera said. "We’re going to find out even more about us because these next two weeks, coupled with yesterday’s game, are three games that I circled and said: ‘Man, this is going to be a tough stretch. This is going to be about our character. This is about our culture and how we handle these types of situations.’"
Rivera, though, is never one to back down from a challenge. Win or lose, he's prepared to learn a lot about his team over the final month, and what he can expect from them going forward.
"I’m interested in seeing it, I really am. I’m excited about it," Rivera said. "I really do think it’s a big step in terms of our culture and where we are in terms of a football team."