- - Sunday, November 19, 2023

LANDOVER — Ron Rivera is in hot water in Washington, but that was the only hot water that could be found Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field.

Players from the Commanders and the New York Giants had to shower — if they could bear it — in ice-cold conditions after the stadium’s water heater broke.

That was the final indignity in a day full of them for the Commanders, who lost 31-19, and at 4-7 are left without any legitimate paths to the playoffs, thus signaling the end of the Rivera era.

There’s plenty of blame to go around on this one, though.

“I don’t think it’s fair to call out only the players or the coaches,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. “I think coaches and players equally have a hand and are responsible for what’s going on out on the field.”

Both did their part on Sunday. The defensive players once again allowed multiple big plays to the Giants, who were starting rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito and were down several other starters.

The numbers were gaudy, as the Commanders piled up nine sacks. But when DeVito and Saquon Barkley were able to connect, that was good enough to scratch out 24 points on a handful of short fields (the final touchdown was a pick-six of Howell).

Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste said communication was an issue on a handful of occasions where Giants receivers were allowed to run wide open.

“We’ve just got to stay focused and communicate,” St-Juste said. “Sometimes we forget. That’s a consistent thing we need to do, every single play, and I think once we become consistent with that, we’ll have fewer plays like that.”

Asked if he still believed in coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system, he said he did.

“Who am I to give up right now?” St-Juste asked. “We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it work. It’s worked before. We’ve seen how it is. So we’re gonna find the pieces to put it together and once it clicks, there’s no turning back.”

Allen described allowing big plays as the main failing of the unit.

“It’s kind of been the theme of the season,” he said. “We’ll play really good, then we’ll have four or five lapses in a game that allow for big plays. Until we clean that up, we’ll never be the defense that we can be.”

Those short fields they had to defend were courtesy of the offense, which did its part by continuing to turn the ball over — six times in all.

“The most frustrating part about it is that we do it to ourselves,” running back Brian Robinson said. “We constantly beat ourselves. We’ve just got to give ourselves a chance to be great and make the other team beat us.”

The season started with high expectations for a Washington roster filled with talent, but hasn’t panned out that way.

Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. noted that it doesn’t take a full team failing to have a failure of a play.

“One guy here, one guy there,” he said. “That’s it. That’s all it takes is one guy. We need 11 players to make the ball go one yard. And we’re getting 10.”

His teammate on the line, Sam Cosmi, said it’s hard to understand.

“To be completely honest with you, I’m very surprised,” Cosmi said. “We have a group of talented guys here. We have the freaking talent to be great, that’s why it’s so frustrating. To see that not happen, it’s mind-boggling, to be completely honest with you.”

That’s where the coaching comes in. Rivera said he didn’t want to go into detail on Washington’s 4-7 record, so as not to be perceived as making excuses.

The decisions from here don’t get easier for new owner Josh Harris. Firing Rivera would almost certainly mean promoting offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, but he’s got his hands full with the development of Sam Howell. Del Rio doesn’t seem like a feasible choice given his unit’s failings this year.

If Washington can scratch out a win in Dallas on Thursday, that would help change the narrative and provide breathing room to get to the finish line, but that seems like a tall task given what happened on Sunday, which was a cold shower of reality for everybody involved.

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