As the Washington Football Team's offense huddled with less than four minutes to play Sunday, Logan Thomas had a good idea of what head coach Ron Rivera was thinking. "Let's go score and go for two," Thomas told his teammates.
Rivera's attacking mindset has been on display since the season opener, when he attempted a 4th-and-1 from the four-yard line with the game tied midway through the fourth quarter. Instead of settling for the go-ahead field goal, the offense converted the short-yardage situation and then buried the Eagles with a touchdown.
So, when Kyle Allen found Cam Sims for a touchdown in the final seconds -- bringing Washington within one point of tying the New York Giants -- everyone knew the game was going to be decided moments later. With two yards separating a 2-0 division start and a fifth-straight defeat, Rivera put all his confidence in a young offense.
The gamble failed as Allen's desperation heave fell incomplete, but Rivera reinforced a foundational, long-term precedent in the process: "The only way to learn to win is to play to win."
"I'm trying to get our players to understand that's how we're going to do things," Rivera said. "We're going to do things to the max. We're going to play to win football games. It's going to bug me because we lost. It really does, it pisses me off, I want to win football games. I don't care that it's my first year, I don't care that we have a group of young guys that have to learn; we're trying to teach them, we're going to teach them, and they're going to learn how to win. And at the end of the day, that's what we're here for."
Rivera's early-season decision-making prepared the offense for that potential game-winning play against the Giants. He kept the unit on the field for fourth down eight times during the first five weeks, and its ninth attempt occurred during the first drive Sunday. Facing a 4th-and-1 from the Giants' 48-yard line, short-yardage specialist Peyton Barber rumbled for a two-yard pickup.
Rivera showed even more faith in the attack late in the first half. After a running into the punter penalty set up Washington with 4th-and-4 from the Giants' 40-yard line, Rivera brought the offense back onto the field. If it failed, the Giants would have more than enough time to expand on its 13-3 lead. It would have also wasted a beautiful punt from Tress Way that was downed on the edge of the goal line.
"It's a confidence," Thomas said. "He has confidence in his players. He tells us every day how much he believes in us -- that we're going to get the job done -- and he backs it with his actions."
After New York dominated the third quarter in terms of yardage and time of possession, Washington did the same in the final frame, when its three possessions spanned seven, 10 and 14 plays. The Giants, by comparison, ran seven plays totaling 13 yards.
So, when Allen made up for his costly fumble with a touchdown strike to Sims, cornerback Kendall Fuller understood Rivera's decision to go for two. Despite a solid effort from the defense, which included Fuller's fourth interception in the past three games, the offense had all the momentum and moved the ball consistently for most of the final three quarters. With a few more yards, Washington could skip overtime and leave New York with a win.
The play was unsuccessful, giving the Giants their first win of the season, but that does not mean the decision was wrong. Rivera once again showed his players he believed in them -- an action that will only help this franchise as it aims to become a consistent winner.
"Coach Rivera, he made it clear that we were coming down here to win," Fuller said. "Coach Rivera has a strong mindset – he always wants to be that attacker and things like that – and we came here to win, and he made a choice to help us win the ball game."