For reasons both on and off the field, the 2020 season is one Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera will never forget.
Despite everything both Rivera and the organization went through this year, Washington ended the campaign as NFC East champions.
Although Rivera is now shifting into offseason mode and beginning to evaluate his team moving forward, the head coach told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay he will look back at his first year in Washington "fondly."
"I think I'm going to look at it and remember the players," Rivera said. "This group, for everything they went through, is one of the toughest-minded group of guys I've ever coached. To be able to stay focused and to get us where we wanted to be, my hat's off to our players. I really do mean that."
By staying focused, Rivera commended his players for not folding on what looked like a lost season for several weeks. The team began the year with a 1-5 start and then slipped to 2-7 shortly after that. Yet, Washington never gave up hope on capturing the NFC East crown, no matter what its record was.
Rivera's team would respond by winning five of the final seven regular-season games -- including a four-game winning streak -- capturing the division title with a Week 17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Then in the playoffs, despite being a double-digit-point underdog to Tampa Bay, the Burgundy and Gold nearly pulled off the upset over the Tom Brady and the Bucs.
The head coach knows that his team exceeded expectations in Year 1 of his leadership, in what was by many accounts expected to be a developmental year for Rivera's club. While the 59-year-old coach deserves a ton of credit for Washington's turnaround - even if he won't take full credit.
"I just know that I didn't do it by myself. I have a good staff of coaches," Rivera said. "We have good support here. And, we've got a good group of players. I think together, we did something good. We did."
For the first time in several years, there's hope in the nation's capital about the future of the Washington Football Team. It won't be easy to repeat as division champions -- no team has done that in the NFC East since 2004 -- but there are plenty of reasons for optimism moving forward.
"I hope coming back next year, we're even more focused and we're improved because it's going to take that to stay on top," Rivera said. "Because believe me, we're going to have the target on us now."