Commanders coach Ron Rivera on why the rest of the NFC East is winning: 'Quarterback'

The NFC East is in the midst of a revival.

The downtrodden division with a storied history lays claim to three of the NFL's five best records through Sunday's games with the 5-0 Philadelphia Eagles and 4-1 New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

Then there's the Washington Commanders. Perhaps the most-beleaguered of once-proud NFC East franchises remains mired in the muck in 2022 amid a 1-4 start. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday when quarterback Carson Wentz threw a goal-line interception in the waning seconds of regulation that sealed a 21-17 win for the visiting Tennessee Titans.

On Monday, head coach Ron Rivera was asked why he thinks the rest of the division is making progress where the Commanders aren't. His answer was blunt.

"Quarterback," Rivera said.

That was it. A one-word answer. Meanwhile Philadelphia is the only team in the division that appears to have a bonafide difference-maker behind center in Jalen Hurts.

The Giants are winning in spite of a lack of significant progress from Daniel Jones, a fourth-year former first-round pick whom the franchise declined to extend or even exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. He's thro three touchdowns and two interceptions in five games for an offense that ranks 23rd in the NFL.

The Cowboys, meanwhile are playing with a backup quarterback. Dak Prescott hasn't played since injuring his thumb in Dallas' season opener. The Cowboys have since run off four straight wins thanks to a swarming defense and steady play from backup quarterback Cooper Rush (4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions in four starts).

Rivera expounded on his one-word answer only when faced with a followup question focused on the Cowboys' quarterback situation.

"They started with Dak," Rivera said. "They build around Dak. And the offense is built around Dak. Their backup's a guy that is very solid inside of what they do. And the truth is that this is a quarterback-driven league.

"If you look at the teams that have been able to sustain success, they've been able to build it around a specific quarterback."

Rivera greenlit the offseason trade for Wentz that saw the Commanders send a package to the Indianapolis Colts that included third-round picks in 2022 and 2023. The 2023 pick will convert to a second-round selection if Wentz plays 70% of Washington's offensive snaps this season. It was a high price to pay for a quarterback the Colts were openly done with who was previously cast off by an Eagles team that drafted him with the No. 2 pick in 2016.

Through five games, it's been more of the same for Wentz, whose six interceptions through five games are the third-most in the NFL. He flashes the big-play ability that made him a coveted prospect and was excellent on Sunday (25 of 38 for 359 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) until his game-ending mistake. But he counters it with too many mistakes for his team to overcome.

All of Washington's woes certainly can't be pinned on Wentz. There's plenty of blame to go around, as there has been for the entirety of the Daniel Snyder regime. But Rivera's frustrations are understandable. It's just shocking to hear an NFL coach express them out loud — especially one as measured as Rivera.

So does Rivera regret trading for Wentz? Given the chance to backtrack, he said no, but still failed to muster a full-throated endorsement of his starting quarterback.

"I've got no regrets about our quarterback," Rivera continued. "I think our quarterback has done some good things. There've been a couple games that he's struggled. You look at his numbers yesterday, and he was OK. Look at his numbers he's had throughout the year.

"There was a time he was very solid. He had the unfortunate Philadelphia game. He struggled a little bit in the Dallas game. But the way he performed yesterday, it just shows you what he's capable of. We chose him because we believe in him."

That does not sound like a man with confidence in his quarterback. It's hard to blame him.