ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera has a short message for anyone upset that Philadelphia benched quarterback Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter of a close game: Tough.
While some have said the move helped Washington beat the Eagles 20-14 on Sunday night to clinch the NFC East and prevent the New York Giants from winning the division, Rivera said he doesn’t want to hear any such talk.
“You play who’s out there,” he said. “I’m not apologizing for winning.”
Washington won the division with a 7-9 record, finishing a game ahead of the Giants. The Eagles, already playing without 10 starters for various reasons, took out Hurts to play seldom-used Nate Sudfeld with Washington ahead 17-14.
After the game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, “That was my decision solely. Nate has been here for four years and I felt he deserved an opportunity to get some snaps. If there’s anything out there that thinks I was not trying to win the game … [Zach] Ertz is out there, Brandon Graham is out there, Darius Slay is out there. All of our top guys are still on the field at the end.”
Pederson reiterated that point on Monday, saying the offense was struggling to score and his plan was to get Sudfeld into the game.
“It’s just something that — it’s not where any of us want to be. It’s not where our fans wanted us or expected us to be and it’s definitely not where me or [general manager Howie Roseman] or where [team owner Jeffrey Lurie] wanted us to be at this time sitting here today,” he said. “We wanted to be playing in the postseason. That’s our goal every season. So, this year, this game, this season, didn’t come down to last night.
“We were playing for our lives in a playoff game four, five, six weeks ago where every game mattered, and we failed even then. I’ve got to look at the whole thing, do what’s in the best interest and try to win a game any way possible.”
The move led to others criticizing Pederson. But Rivera does not want Pederson’s decision to detract from what Washington accomplished, needing to win five of its last seven games to earn the title.
“Nobody complained when Pittsburgh did what they did against Cleveland,” Rivera said, referring to the Steelers’ decision to rest starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, in a game that had playoff implications for others. “It’s been a hard road for us and nobody seems to care about that. Nobody cared two weeks ago when we didn’t have some of our best players. Nobody cared last week when we didn’t have them, so why should we be concerned if a coach decides to do something that’s best for his team?”
Washington quarterback Alex Smith had to miss two games because of a strained right calf, leading to consecutive losses. Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins vs. Carolina in Week 16, turning to Taylor Heinicke, who last played in 2018 and was out of the league until Washington signed him on Dec. 8. Receiver Terry McLaurin missed the Panthers game with a sprained ankle. Rivera endured seven weeks of cancer treatments during the season, leaving him fatigued and often needing to leave the facility several hours earlier than usual.
Sunday, Hurts wasn’t having a good game throwing the ball. He completed just 7 of 20 passes for 72 yards. He was 2-of-8 in the third quarter for 8 yards. Hurts did run for 34 yards and two touchdowns.
Sudfeld completed 5 of 12 passes for 32 yards and was sacked twice. A fumble led to a Washington field goal.
Hurts’ mobility allowed him to escape bad situations, often leading to throwaways. He was sacked once. But he was intercepted, also leading to a field goal.
“A lot of people are happy about [the move] , a lot of people aren’t happy about it and that’s just tough,” Rivera said. “So many things have happened in this world that are tough, that are hard. This is just a game that we’re playing, and we play the game as it comes to us. And I’m not going to apologize.
“You apologize for losing in the playoffs, but you don’t apologize for getting in.”
After the game, Washington defensive end Montez Sweat said “no comment” when first asked about the move. He later explained the obvious differences between the two passers.
“It’s definitely a difference when a less mobile quarterback comes in the game,” Sweat said. “A quarterback with legs is more dynamic and harder to rush. Jalen’s a dynamic guy, but we feel we would have finished the job with either one.”
ESPN’s Tim McManus contributed to this report.
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