LANDOVER, Md. -- This wasn't supposed to be how the season unfolded. The Washington Football Team would build on 2020, continuing to head in the right direction as it established itself as a worthy team.
Instead, the team is 2-3, looking lost on defense and turning the ball over too much on offense. Washington gives up huge plays every game and, in Sunday's 33-22 loss to the New Orleans Saints, it added another indignity to its season: A botched Hail Mary defense to close out the first half, resulting in a 49-yard touchdown that was too easy to complete.
Now comes the worst part: the schedule.
The Kansas City Chiefs fell to 2-3 in Week 5, but the reigning AFC champions remain explosive and visit Washington on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Washington visits the Green Bay Packers (4-1) in Week 7, and on Nov. 14 plays host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1). Every quarterback has hurt Washington thus far; it will be asking a lot for this defense to defend Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in upcoming games. Perhaps that's why Washington coach Ron Rivera looked and sounded more frustrated than ever; Sunday was an opportunity lost.
Washington turned its season around in 2020, but it did not face this kind of daunting schedule.
The reality is, fixing what is ailing Washington now will require more. In the past two weeks Washington faced offenses that were, at best, inconsistent. New Orleans entered the game averaging 24 points per game and 295.2 yards. Sunday, it scored 33 and gained 369 yards. Last week's opponent, Atlanta, averages 21 points per game and 345.6 yards. It scored 30 on Washington and gained 374 yards.
"I'm very frustrated," Rivera said. "We've got too many good football players to not be better than we are right now. But your record tells everybody what you are. That's what we are."
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke has been a good story for Washington, but in two of the past three games (against Buffalo and New Orleans) he's thrown a combined four interceptions. His first interception Sunday occurred at the 1-yard line, robbing Washington of possible points. The second occurred late in the game, with Washington trailing by five. It led to another touchdown.
There were other near interceptions Sunday. Heinicke throws an accurate ball, but when he doesn't anticipate his throws, his lack of a powerful arm becomes a bigger issue as his passes become easier to defend.
"Yes, it sucks that we are losing and we are all going to be upset tonight, but we will come in, in the morning and get ready for Kansas City," Heinicke said. "It's a long season."
But it will get longer by the week if the defense continues to play the way it has in the first five games. The unit allowed a 72-yard touchdown pass because New Orleans quick-snapped the ball and caught safety Landon Collins out of position as he was trying to disguise the coverage. On the Hail Mary, Rivera said they were playing for New Orleans to perhaps throw short with eight seconds left to set up a field goal. But they also were ready for the deep ball.
However, Collins said "we was thinking [field goal], not Hail Mary. When the ball went up in the air we wasn't prepared for that one."
He also said, "Sometimes teams just know what we're in and got the right playcall or we don't play our assignments right. ... We do have the utmost confidence [in the defensive coaches]. We trust [coordinator Jack] Del Rio's playcalling. We trust the coaches that are giving us our assignments. We just have to execute. That's the biggest thing."
That's a problem. Washington did change up its defensive personnel groupings, using five linemen on 32 of its 55 defensive snaps. It didn't matter.
"We lack a little bit of confidence right now," Rivera said. "We had a little bit of confidence, we made some things happen, then we made a couple mistakes and lost a little bit of confidence. We need to keep our confidence level up if we expect to give ourselves a chance to win games."
The feel-good stories all offseason about Washington's potential rise have given way to a harsh reality. It's just not a good team right now.
"It's a new year and you can't go off last year," defensive tackle Daron Payne said. "We can only play up to our potential for this year."
To reach that potential they have to change their play and, perhaps, who is on the field.
"We're going to look at some things as a coaching staff and make sure we put these guys in a position to have success," Rivera said. "We have to make sure we're giving them every opportunity to succeed."
Otherwise, Rivera will preach the same message.
"I still feel good about those guys in the room," he said. "I'm not going to go quit on those guys. I mean, they're who we have. We've just got to keep working. That's all we can do. Different things pop up at different times. That's the hard part. We have to make sure we get those things corrected."