Ron Rivera's first season in Washington was about as unique as possible.
He admitted this week he learned a valuable lesson about how he handled the quarterback position. Rivera played four different quarterbacks in 2020, beginning with second-year signal-caller Dwayne Haskins and finishing the campaign with little-known backup Taylor Heinicke running the offense.
In between, Carolina carryover Kyle Allen and likely NFL Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith took a significant number of snaps, keeping the carousel moving under center. Allen played in four games before an injury ended his season and Smith took over from there, playing in eight games and helping Washington reverse its fortunes, posting a 5-1 record as a starter and leading the Football Team to a playoff appearance with a 7-9 finish.
It's fair to wonder if Washington might have fared better had Rivera given his other quarterbacks a better shot in training camp. Rivera wishes he'd done so.
"Yeah, I would have. I would have. The biggest thing I would have done is I would have created a few more opportunities mixing everybody around," Rivera said during an appearance on 106.7 The Fan. "As opposed to saying okay I'm going to stick with just the one guy and do that. I think now in retrospect, and again, hindsight in 2020, I would.
"What I'm saying is I made a mistake and I'm owning up to it and that's the truth. To put it as simple as that, that's what I'm saying. I'm just being honest."
The coach was tasked with learning his new team amid a pandemic that significantly restricted his team's ability to work together in the offseason, and when it came time for the team to work though training camp, Rivera decided to give the majority of the starting quarterback reps to Haskins. Haskins got a quick hook, losing his starting job after just four weeks and eventually getting released by the team following a dreadful week of on- and off-field performance. Heinicke made his first appearance in place of Haskins, who was benched in the second half of his final game with Washington.
Heinicke was again called upon in the postseason with Smith unable to play due to a calf injury, and he gave a valiant effort, suffering an AC joint sprain on a touchdown run that saw Heinicke cross the goal line by diving for the pylon. He finished the game, completing 26 of 44 passes for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Washington's future at quarterback remains uncertain with Smith unsure of his future, Allen still on the mend and the league still processing Heinicke's small, but unexpected success on the postseason stage. Rivera and Washington's front office has plenty of time to figure out how to proceed, and it'll enter the 2021 offseason wiser.
"It's something that I'm going to chalk up as an experience, you learn from experience and if I ever get in this situation again I will look to do it differently," Rivera said.