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WFT Daily: Managing Success After First Winning Streak

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Alex Smith jogs off the field after the Washington Football Team's Thanksgiving came against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 26, 2020. (Sam Hodde/NFL)

The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.

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There are a litany of priorities on Ron Rivera's list in his first season as the Washington Football Team's head coach, but teaching the young team how to win is certainly near the top.

Rivera said after Washington's 41-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys that the players are still learning. They seem to be getting the hang of it, though, as they have won three of their last six matchups, not to mention its last three losses have come by a combined seven points.

Now that Washington has won back-to-back games for the first time this season and taken hold of first place in the NFC East, Rivera faces another challenge in developing his team: properly managing success.

"I mean it, this is going to be a heck of a stretch when you look at who we have left in terms of Pittsburgh and Seattle and San Francisco and Carolina, who's playing better and better football. San Francisco is getting healthier," Rivera said Friday. "These are going to be five tough games."

Rivera is right to point out the difficulty of Washington's final stretch of games, because it will be pitted against some of the NFL's top-tier teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated and have the best pass rushing unit with 38.0 sacks. The San Francisco 49ers have a long list of injuries, but they continue to get healthier every week. The Seattle Seahawks are 7-3 and in contention to win the NFC West, which is widely considered the best division in the NFL this season.

It would seem that Washington's top playmakers like Alex Smith and Terry McLaurin agree with their head coach. Smith is obviously pleased with the team's performance; his 149 yards won't stand out in the box score, but the offense has been more balanced the past two games. Still, there's a lot of football left to be played.

"I'm not going to get too much into that. I think some of that stuff can be dangerous. We're in the middle of a season. I think we have a good thing going, and I think it's important to stay short-sighted. For us, now it's we get a couple days here to kind of rest up and hope to get healthy and on to the next."

McLaurin wants Washington to enjoy the win. He couldn't stop smiling on the sideline, and holding a division lead is something to be proud of. What he doesn't want is for them to celebrate like they already won the division.

"We still have a lot of the season left," he said. "We're gonna try to take advantage of this long break and get ready for an undefeated Pittsburgh team. It feels good to be leading our division right now, but we have a lot of football left."

There is still a lot for Washington to be excited about heading into the long weekend. Its offense put up at least 325 yards for the sixth straight game, McLaurin is currently the NFL's leading receiver, Antonio Gibson leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns and the defense held Dallas to its third-lowest total points mark in a single season in series history with 19.

There were many who doubted Rivera's trust in the team when it was 1-5, especially after losing 30-10 to the Los Angeles Rams. Since then, Washington is 3-3, and its losses have come by a combined seven points. Rivera and the players aren't satisfied yet, though.

"The only way I'll have vindication is the first weekend in January and we're in first place. For right now, we're going to work toward it. We've got a tough schedule coming up. I know we've got Pittsburgh coming. We'll see how we handle those situations and see where we are in terms of our growth."

QUICK HITS:

-- Remembering Sean Taylor: Prior to opening up Friday's press conference for questions, Rivera took time to honor former Washington safety Sean Taylor on the anniversary of his death. While he never coached Taylor, he did meet the late safety once before and admired his game from afar, and he knows his death shook the entire organization and fanbase to the core.

"He was one of those generational players, one of those guys that comes once in a lifetime. He meant a lot to this organization, and unfortunately he was taken from us way too soon. We just want to continue to send prayers to the Taylor family today."

-- Antonio Gibson is showing progress in multiple areas: Gibson has shown major growth in the past five games. He finished two games with at least 90 rushing yards heading into the Thanksgiving matchup, and he added another with 115 yards on 20 carries. He has looked more like Washington's No. 1 running back, and that is a payoff from the team taking a chance on him with a third-round pick. Rivera said the team saw his potential when it was scouting him, and now that the team has developed him, he is showing why he was worth the draft pick.

"At first, he was a little bit all over the place and now...you start to see certain elements of his game coming into focus. The short runs where it's pressing the hole a little bit longer and opening up and popping through where it never opens up and you gain three or four yards, but you're getting what you can -- those are the things that you're looking for. Or, he hits a hole or hits an area and then all of a sudden you realize he has to bounce it or cut it back. Those are things that he's continuing to learn the feel for. That's where you see the growth."

-- Players are starting to have "aha" moments: As training camp came to a close in September, Rivera was speaking with Logan Thomas, who made a comment that stuck with the head coach. "Oh, that's why we do these things," Thomas said in passing, and that prompted Rivera to think to himself, "Oh, he gets it." Those moments come at different times for players, Rivera said, but he's excited to see his players showing that growth.

"Those are the things that are fun as a coach is that you see guys experiencing those moments of 'aha' or growth or 'I get it' or 'Man, I can play. I can do these things.'"

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