PHOENIX (AP) — Ron Rivera’s dad served in the United States Army for 32 years.
So for the coach of the Washington Commanders, winning the NFL’s Salute to Service Award was extra special.
The award honors league personnel who take tangible steps to honor and support military communities. USAA — which sponsors the honor — will provide a $25,000 donation to each military branch’s official aid society in Rivera’s name, and the NFL will send a matching donation to a military charity of Rivera’s choice.
“We traveled the United States, we traveled the world being a military family,” said Rivera during an AP Pro Football Podcast appearance on Wednesday in Phoenix. “Just knowing and seeing the commitment that these men and women make, we most certainly need to give back, and I feel that it is a duty of ours to do that, because I’ve learned so much from being an Army brat.”
During November’s Salute to Service events, Rivera wore the insignia of his father’s military rank and a patch with his mother’s initials.
Rivera led the Commanders to an 8-8-1 record over the past season. It was Rivera's third year as Washington's coach after having the same role for nine years with the Carolina Panthers.
Tenets of Rivera’s coaching focus — dutiful effort, discipline and accountability — have deep roots stemming from his military childhood.
“I grew up on Army bases and my education in life was based on that,” Rivera said. “As a family unit, your best friends, your first teammates, are your family members. I tell people, my best two coaches I’ve ever had were mom and dad. My best teammates were my three brothers.”
Rivera will be recognized Thursday during the NFL Honors prime-time ceremony alongside other league award winners.
T.J. WATT PRAISES PICKETT, TALKS J.J.'S RETIREMENT
Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett had an up-and-down rookie season, throwing two more interceptions than touchdowns.
But linebacker T.J. Watt said during his appearance on the AP Pro Football Podcast that he’s confident the former Pitt Panthers star will keep growing.
Pickett started 12 games during his rookie season, tossing seven touchdowns and nine interceptions, but started to limit his bigger mistakes during the second half of the season. Pickett’s growth stood out to Watt, who saw the young quarterback step up in significant spots.
“It’s awesome to see in young players, particularly, just the amount of confidence that they grow in themselves and the system and the whole team week to week,” Watt said. “You really saw that with Kenny this year — some big-time drives in big-time games toward the end of the season. I’m just very excited to see how he takes this offseason to improve his game for next year.”
Watt, who only played in 10 games this season because of a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in Week 1, still earned his fifth Pro Bowl selection. He had 39 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks and two interceptions.
He now heads into the first offseason of his career after the retirement of his older brother — three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. The eldest Watt brother ended his career after 12 years in the NFL, including 10 with the Houston Texans and last two with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I’m just hoping that he’s not going to be nagging me when I don’t win pass rushes and sending me all these clips trying to be my pass-rush coach,” Watt joked. “I’m not too worried about that. I think he’s going to have a great post-career in whatever he decides to do.”
GOFF WORKS TO IMPROVE
Quarterback Jared Golf helped lead the Detroit Lions to nine wins this season, the team’s most wins since 2017. He threw for 4,438 yards, 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions en route to earning his third Pro Bowl nod.
Now he hopes the story of his career changes.
When the Lions traded for Goff in March 2021 — in a deal that sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams — many viewed Goff as a bridge quarterback for the team until it found a young quarterback through the draft.
“It takes more time to break (narratives) than it does to build them,” Goff said on Tuesday. “It’s just part of our business when you play quarterback, and you’re going to get criticized if things aren’t going well. I was happy to have a good year and have a good year with the guys we did and be able to win some games.”
Goff’s emergence back to a Pro Bowl-level has come under the tutelage of head coach Dan Campbell. Goff credited Campbell for holding the team accountable while still creating a fun atmosphere and allowing the players to be themselves.
Penn State journalism students Gabe Angieri and Sam Fremin contributed to this report.
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