After the bye week? Or after the season?
The more to-the-point question: Does it really matter?
This Commanders season became a foregone conclusion earlier than normal. Maybe we should be thankful there’s no tease about what’s possible. Still, it’s a shame Thanksgiving isn’t even here and the most important person in the building isn’t the guy who coaches the team but whoever’s next. Eric Bieniemy? Ben Johnson? Bill … Belichick?
Whoever. We have time for that.
Ready for the specifics that got us here, before the holidays are even in full swing? The Commanders lost Sunday to the New York Giants in a mostly unwatchable 31-19 debacle in which Washington turned the ball over six times. The last of those: an embarrassment-sealing interception of Sam Howell by New York linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who mocked the home team by falling backward across the goal line to complete his 54-yard score.
Why shouldn’t he? The Giants are 2-0 against the Commanders. They are 1-8 against the rest of the NFL.
Under the old ownership regime, this is where we would link the putrid on-field result with the fact that neither locker room had hot water so the players could comfortably shower afterward. Then we would make a joke about how the stench of the game followed the Commanders home. (Insert rimshot here.)
This is, though, a new era, the relentless beatdown of Daniel Snyder replaced with the optimism of Josh Harris. The jokes aren’t supposed to apply. Yet here we are.
Put the showers aside. Concentrate on the results. How can this be happening in the fourth year of a program that Rivera keeps arguing is showing growth?
“No matter what my answer is, it’s going to come out, and people are going to say it’s an excuse,” Rivera said. “So we’re just going to take the responsibility and show up tomorrow and get prepared.”
Prepared for … packing up the office? Or the flight to Dallas?
The quarterback who beat the Commanders: Tommy DeVito, whom I remember as being great in “Taxi” and even better in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I had no idea he could find wide-open receivers roaming on massive swaths of turf, the members of Washington’s alleged secondary nowhere to be found. DeVito, an undrafted rookie, is the Giants’ third-string quarterback. On Sunday, he took nine sacks — and still hung in there to throw for 246 yards with three touchdowns and no picks.
This isn’t just the kind of thing that happens to the Commanders, or the Washington Football Team, or the Banished Team Names over time. This is what has happened to Rivera’s teams, in particular. So whether Harris acts this week or the day after the season, he will act. He must act. It’s obvious.
“It is a low point, that’s for sure,” Rivera said. “Any time you’ve got an opportunity to win a football game and you put the numbers up that you did, you got to come through.”
At this point, that’s filler. At this point, there really aren’t answers. Rivera knows it. In mulling his own future — inevitable as it seems — Rivera sounded beaten down Friday while answering questions from The Post’s Nicki Jhabvala.
“S—, I’ve been through enough,” he said — and he’s not wrong, what with his cancer diagnosis during his first season, then with the constant tumult as the NFL investigated and essentially suspended Snyder, leaving Rivera to answer questions he had no business facing.
“The last three and a half years have not been easy,” Rivera continued. “Anybody who thinks it’s been easy, to hell with them. And I’ll be honest with you, because that’s how I feel about the last three years. It’s been a lot. We’ve done a lot.”
Point granted that it has been a lot. Let’s quibble with how much they’ve done. Not just in roster-building but in coaching. Listen to Jonathan Allen, the seventh-year defensive tackle who had 1.5 sacks against the Giants. What has to happen to make results like Sunday’s flip the other way?
“I would say learning how to win,” Allen said. “When you look at teams around the league who are consistently successful, they know how to win different types of games. In order to win ugly, in order to win offensive and defensive games, special teams. And so for us, we just have to learn how to win in different ways.”
Allen wouldn’t point at the coaching staff, but his words are telling. By this point, Rivera should have taught those different ways to win. It’s too far into his tenure, and he has too big of a role in both selecting the players and coaching them up, to say otherwise. He knows precisely what’s at stake.
“If I stay, I stay,” Rivera said Friday. “So until then, I will just continue to work. I know what my goals are. I know what my vision is. But I’m not going to shake and waver on Sam, on this offense or what we do.”
The message he wants to deliver is that the culture in the building is better than when he arrived and that the Commanders may have something in Howell, the fifth-round selection in 2022 whose trajectory this season is better than Sunday’s three-interception performance would indicate.
The culture part can be correct. The problem is Rivera chose Dwayne Haskins, then Ryan Fitzpatrick, then Carson Wentz as his quarterbacks before landing on Howell. If he solved Washington’s built-in quarterback carousel, he did so only after extending it.
So, then, the logistics: Part of the issue with dismissing Rivera this week has to do with how quickly the next challenge is upon the team. Part has to do with the lack of a logical successor. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s performance has arguably been worse than Rivera’s. Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator, is in his first year calling plays, and in some ways the final six games of the season are about evaluating how important a Bieniemy-Howell pairing might be for the future. There’s no obvious place to turn.
The timing, though, doesn’t much matter. What does: making the right choice going forward.
Think of it this way: A generation of Washington football fans has endured losses like Sunday’s, the kind that feel like new lows. To this point, they have come under Snyder, which added a layer of helplessness and hopelessness to it all.
Sunday’s loss came under Harris. Only 11 games into his tenure, he has to be granted the benefit of the doubt to make the right decision. Eventually — next week or next month or in January — that will be dismissing Rivera. The extent of the optimism the fan base will feel from Harris’s stewardship can be enhanced if he makes an inspired and exciting choice for the next coach. It’s just a shame that it’s not even Thanksgiving, and that who’s next already matters more than who’s here.