Rams-Bengals a ‘What if?’ bowl for Commanders

Rams-Bengals a ‘What if?’ bowl for Commanders

Forget Sean McVay

When the Super Bowl’s media week begins Monday, there’s sure to be those who will bring up that McVay used to coach for Washington. That’s been a worn-out storyline throughout the playoffs, particularly as McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur — all former assistants for Washington now leading their own teams — advanced deep in the postseason.

For the Commanders — yes, they’re the Commanders now — next Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals contains bigger “What if?” scenarios than a coach who got away.  

With Washington in desperate need of a quarterback this offseason, Super Bowl 56 could be hard to watch for anyone who spent the last few years outright hoping that Joe Burrow or Matthew Stafford would suit up for the Burgundy and Gold. After all, the possibility that either quarterback could have landed in Washington isn’t that far-fetched. 

Instead, the Bengals drafted Burrow, the Rams traded for Stafford and the Commanders were left to begin their annual search for a new signal-caller.

But Washington was arguably the runner-up for both quarterbacks.

Let’s start with Stafford because that happened more recently. Last year, Stafford demanded a trade from Detroit and the Lions’ brass opened up the bidding to a field of interested suitors. According to Sports Illustrated, Washington and Carolina were the favorites for Stafford until the Rams swooped in. 

Washington came in strong, offering a first-round (No. 19) and a third-round pick to the Lions. Likewise, the Panthers’ offer was also solid: No. 8 and a lower mid-round pick. But the Rams topped both teams — sending two first-rounders, a third and quarterback Jared Goff to Detroit. 

The Lions’ asking price ultimately grew beyond what Washington was willing to pay. Still, the broken-down talks ended up being a deflating moment for Washington, which settled for journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick before turning to Taylor Heinicke for most of the season once the former got hurt in Week 1. 

Stafford, on the other hand, was electric for the Rams. He threw for 41 touchdowns and 4,886 yards while leading the Rams to a 12-5 record. The Rams have a much better supporting cast than the Commanders, but Stafford has shown that he’s still capable of posting gaudy numbers with less-than-stellar talent. He did that regularly in Detroit, and Washington would have likely benefited from Stafford under center.

Burrow, meanwhile, also came close to landing in Washington. In 2020, the year the Heisman winner was drafted, the Commanders held the second overall pick — and were a loss away from holding the first overall pick. The year prior, Washington finished 3-13 to Cincinnati’s 2-14. But if the two teams had finished with the second record, Washington would have earned the first overall pick because the Bengals had the better strength of schedule (.565 to Washington’s .493). 

In other words, Washington was a successful Fitzpatrick two-point conversion attempt away from being able to draft Burrow. 

For those who don’t remember, Washington’s first win of the season came after barely holding on against the Miami Dolphins. Fitzpatrick came off the bench and led a frantic comeback, only for the Dolphins to fall short, 17-16, after a failed two-point try at the end. 

And there’s no doubt that if Washington had the first overall pick, the team would have taken Burrow. Despite drafting Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick a year earlier, Rivera was enamored with Burrow. The coach even admitted in 2020 that if the Bengals had somehow passed on the quarterback at No. 1, Washington would have snatched him up. 

“We think Joe is the full package,” Rivera told reporters. “We really do.” 

It’s not hard to see why. At LSU, Burrow led the Tigers to a national championship while producing video-game-like numbers. And that success has carried over in the NFL. Hardly anyone before the season expected the Bengals to make it to the Super Bowl, but they’re now in the big game largely because of Burrow’s year. If the Bengals upset the Rams, Burrow will become the first quarterback to win the Heisman, a national championship and a Super Bowl.

So, you see, no matter who wins Sunday — Burrow and the Bengals or McVay, Stafford and the Rams — local fans are certainly entitled to indulge in what has become a familiar pastime for those who follow the Washington team: a little bittersweet pondering of what might have been.