Rivera, Washington could clinch NFC East by beating Carolina

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) - Ron Rivera thought his first game with Washington would be against the Carolina Panthers he'd coached for the past nine seasons - a fitting start to the season with a juicy storyline.
Instead, he had to wait until week 16, more than a year after being fired from his first chief NFL job and 361 days after being in charge of Washington’s football operations.
A lot has happened during that time, from the raging pandemic to Rivera's diagnosis and treatment for skin cancer, and now he's focused less on his old team than on the opportunity to win the NFC East, which comes with a win and helps Sunday would.
"I don't want these people to think this is a game of revenge," said Rivera. "We have a chance to get into the playoffs, so we want to give ourselves the best chance of winning."
When these teams met last season, Washington beat Carolina and Rivera was sacked two days later. Now he has a chance with some former players to celebrate the unlikely feat of reaching the playoffs with a New York Giants win and a loss to Baltimore.
The NFL moved Carolina-Washington to 4 p.m. EST launch so players know when they are entering the field, if they are there with a win. They also know that without Rivera aiming to win the division, they probably wouldn't be in this place, even if his team was 1-3.
"He's done a hell of a lot for us, especially for everything he's been through," said Brandon Scherff. '' He did a fantastic job of putting us in a position like this. ''
So far, Rivera has had an impact on Carolina (4-10) after 14 games in Washington (6-8), who lost seven out of eight in his first season under coach Matt Rhule to get out of the playoff competition. Panther's cornerback Donte Jackson said he hadn't forgotten Rivera's mantra, "Control Your Inner APE" - which stands for attitude, preparation and effort.
"That's something I run my weekly routine, my weekly schedule afterwards," said Jackson. '' It will be with me throughout my career. It's just some of the little things he instilled in us without us even knowing. ''
If Alex Smith progresses enough that his tense right calf feels good enough to play, the 36-year-old will start at the quarterback for Washington. If not, it will be Dwayne Haskins again in 2019, who started as the third stringer starter in the first round, despite being disciplined for breaking the COVID-19 protocol last weekend by partying without a mask .
Smith, who got away 4-1 for two years as a starter and cruelly broken his right leg, wants to help Washington get back into the playoffs.
"To play meaningful games at this time of year, do whatever you can to get on the field and play through everything you can," he said. `` These are essentially playoff games at this point with all that is at stake. You do anything to be out there all week. ''
Rhule said Christian McCaffrey (thigh), Brian Burns (knee) and Troy Pride (hip) are in doubt. McCaffrey has missed 11 games this season so his absence wouldn't be a big surprise.
Burns could be a great loss to Carolina. He's by far the top pass rusher on the eight-bag team, and Rhule said not having him in the line-up really changes our defenses.
The game will feature two players in the running for AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Carolina Linebacker / Safety Jeremy Chinn and Washington Defensive End Chase Young.
Chinn, a second round draft pick, leads all rookies with 101 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack, and two defensive touchdowns. Young, number 2, has 38 tackles, 5+ sacks, and three forced fiddling, and at 21 is the youngest player in Washington franchise history to be selected for the Pro Bowl.
"I think it starts with a healthy approach," Defense coordinator Jack Del Rio said recently. `` When Chase Young got here he was humble. He was a hard worker. He was about business. He wanted to learn from boys. ''
The Panthers have lost eight games in which quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had the ball in hand on a ride in the late fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead or the tie. He said it would be a huge elevator if the panthers could break through.
"When you get the chance to take that final shot, you want to be able to deliver," said Bridgewater. `` And we couldn't deliver. We want to overcome this hump. ''
Bridgewater is 3-10 as the team's starting quarterback this season, and owner David Tepper appeared to be bringing it to his attention this week with his comments. Bridgewater has two years left on his contract, but the Panthers could have a top 5 pick in next year's draft.
"If you don't have this guy to take you to playoffs and super bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that," Tepper said of the team's quarterback game. '' Because that's the only thing that matters, super bowls are. ''
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AP sports journalist Steve Reed contributed to this.
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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
In this article
Ron Rivera
Matt Rhule
New York Giants
Washington soccer team
Carolina Panthers

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