With the playoffs a distant hope, this is traditionally the time of year when NFL coaches debate putting in their younger players for game experience.
Except in Washington, where there hasn’t been much deliberation. One of the league’s worst COVID outbreaks has made picking starters easy — find out who’s healthy, and they’re in.
On Sunday that list will include running back Jaret Patterson, an undrafted rookie who is likely to fill in for starter Antonio Gibson, who tested positive for COVID late this week.
“I’m ready,” Patterson said. “My mindset has always been just staying ready for whatever opportunity comes my way, and just take full advantage of it.”
Coach Ron Rivera said he’s noticed the extra work.
“I think the biggest thing as far as Jaret is concerned is just how hard he’s been working,” Rivera said. “He’s a young guy that’s really in tune as to what we do. He does the extra things.”
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Patterson scored his first NFL touchdown two weeks ago in the team’s first matchup against the Eagles.
Entering that game, both teams were jockeying for playoff position.
Technically, that is still true on Sunday. Washington has three scenarios remaining where they can sneak into the playoffs, each of which involves help from four other teams.
Those scenarios also all involve the Football Team (6-9) winning its final two games of the season.
That’s no easy task against the Eagles (8-7), who have an inside track on a playoff berth and could even lock one up on Sunday, in front of a FedEx Field crowd that will almost certainly contain lots of green.
The Eagles need a win and a Minnesota loss to Green Bay, hardly an outrageous thought with starting quarterback Kirk Cousins out. Then they need one of two other results — Carolina defeating New Orleans or San Francisco defeating Houston.
Because the games with help happen later in the day, the Eagles won’t be able to walk off the field playoff-bound as they did in 2018.
For Washington, there is also the lingering quarterback issue.
Rivera said on Monday he would play Kyle Allen some in the final two games, then offered a clarification hours later — Taylor Heinicke still gives the team “the best chance to win,” but he wants to give Allen the opportunity to play should it present itself.
Heinicke’s up-and-down season had some fans wondering if he was the answer after a four-game win streak, but as the team has crashed back to earth, that talk seems to have mostly dissipated.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner said the team isn’t caught up in bigger-picture issues.
“We’re in the course of the season and I’m not really worried about being on, like, a debate show about, ‘Is this guy a franchise quarterback?’” Turner said. “I’m more so just trying to get ready to go play a game and go give our best chance to win.
“Those are things that we’ll [talk about] as a franchise when we get to the offseason. But as of right now, I’ve got confidence in Taylor, he knows that, and we’re ready to go.”
Turner added that Washington won’t be “rotating quarterbacks” on Sunday, that Heinicke will get the start, and the rest will be dictated by the flow of the game.