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Washington soccer quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) warms up before an NFL soccer game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington soccer team on Sunday January 2, 2022 in Landover, Maryland . (Shaban Athuman / Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

PA

A year after it looked like Washington’s rebuilding was on the fast track, the team are out of the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

At 7-10 after a four-game skid followed by a four-game winning streak, coach Ron Rivera’s squad are closer to where they thought they would be after two seasons on the job. Winning weak NFC East in 2020 at 7-9 pushed Washington’s bar too high too fast, delivered one of the NFL’s toughest schedules, and brought perception of where the team is headed down to earth.

“I think we exceeded expectations in our first year,” said Rivera. “Believe me I didn’t come here thinking it’s going to be an easy turnaround, these first two years are going to be great – no.”

This year has turned out to be particularly worse, with injuries and missing viruses contributing to the losing streak. Off-field tragedies also piled up at the end of the season: Safety Deshazor Everett was the driver in a crash that killed his girlfriend, and ferryman Montez Sweat’s brother was killed in a shootout.

These incidents were among the “real life” issues that crept in for Washington at the end of the season. On the pitch, the team lost defensive Rookie of the Year, Chase Young, to a torn ACL late in the season and dozens of regulars were missing, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was injured right hip in week 1.

Taylor Heinicke took on the starring role the remainder of the season, completing 65% of his passes for 3,419 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

“When you go through a season like ours, it’s a roller coaster: a lot of adversity and a lot of hard work and fighting with these guys,” Heinicke said on Monday. “You sit there at your locker and there are a lot of ups and downs throughout the year and you kind of remember those memories and it’s crazy it’s already over.”

Heinicke’s time as a de facto starter could also be over, even though he and his replacement Kyle Allen are back for training camp. Finding a QB franchise is by far the No.1 priority of the offseason, whether with the 11th pick, later in the draft or through free agency.

But after a hectic season, there are also plenty of questions on the other side of the ball, where the defense has fallen short of high expectations. Washington as a team hasn’t either, but Rivera has expressed optimism about the direction the franchise is heading, and some of its best players are on board.

“There are some steps you have to take,” said defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who set a career-high nine sacks. “We’ve been through them and I’m excited for what the future holds. And I think we’re getting there. Obviously you want to win football games, you want to make the playoffs, but there is is no shortcut to success, and we will make it happen.

YOUTH REHABILITATION

Young’s second pro season ended Nov. 14 when he tore his ACL in his right knee against Tampa Bay. He was in the midst of some sort of sophomore slump with 1½ sacks in his first eight plus games, and now the 2020 No.2 pick has to recover from major surgery.

“I feel like I faced bigger tests off the field,” Young said. “Believe me, I know my knee can come back to 110%. As long as it can come back to 110%, that’s the only thing that interests me. “

With Young, Allen, Sweat and Daron Payne returning with Matt Ioannidis and others, the defensive line still has the potential to be a defining position in 2022.

FREE AGENCY CLASS LOST

Washington’s top free players have been wide receiver Curtis Samuel ($ 34.5 million over three years), cornerback William Jackson III ($ 40.5 million over three years) and Fitzpatrick ($ 10 million over three years). a year). A lingering groin injury and later hamstring problem limited Samuel to six catches for 27 yards in five games, Jackson struggled early in his first season in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system. Fitzpatrick only made three passes before coming down.

“Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the game,” Rivera said. “These are things that happen and you can’t always predict what’s going to happen. You can’t predict that one, two, or three of them will be injured.

Washington’s top rookies turned out to be offensive tackles Charles Leno and Cornelius Lucas, wide receivers DeAndre Carter and Adam Humphries, and safety back Bobby McCain. Leno has already signed an extension, but there is less certainty that the others will return.

KEEPING THE FUTURE

After playing a second consecutive season on the franchise tag, starting right-guard Brandon Scherff once again faces an uncertain future with Washington. Another tag would cost at least $ 26 million, so the 2020 All-Pro is likely gone unless his side and the team can agree on a long-term contract.

“I would love to be here and hope I can end my career here,” said Scherff, who was once again tight-lipped on what it would take. “” Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. It’s between my agent and here so I’m just worried about playing football and doing what I can to help this team win. “

NEXT STEPS

Washington needs a quarterback and has around $ 60 million in salary cap space to accelerate progress to a legitimate candidate. But first a new name, which is expected to be revealed on February 2 after two seasons as Washington’s football team.

It won’t be RedWolves – who was Payne’s favorite – but bettor Tress Way is a fan of three of the finalists: RedHogs, Commanders and Admirals.

“I really enjoy the atmosphere of the commanders,” Way said. “It looks like DC”

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