Entering Washington Week 3 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, head coach Ron Rivera described the matchup as a "measuring stick game" for his club.
Sunday's game was more of a reality check for Washington. After a 43-21 blowout loss in Orchard Park, Rivera admitted that the Burgundy and Gold have "a long way to go" in order to compete with the NFL's best.
"We've got a long way to go. The truth of the matter is that we got beat today," Rivera said postgame. "My expectations were for us to play better than we did, to be honest."
It didn't take long on Sunday for Washington to fall behind. Bills quarterback Josh Allen led Buffalo on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took just over four minutes. The Bills offense entered the game looking shaky through its first two games, but Allen and co. were clicking on all cylinders early on.
Washington had the chance to force a quick three-and-out to begin the drive, as the Bills were faced with a third-and-15 on the third play of the opening series. But, as opponents have been able to do so far this season against Washington, Allen was able to find wideout Gabriel Davis for a 23-yard gain to extend the drive. Five plays later, Buffalo was in the end zone.
That specific third-down conversion was a foreshadowing of what was to come. The Bills converted nine third-down attempts in 15 tries.
Asked about the team's defensive third-down struggles, Rivera said fixing that issue is more about execution than it is play-calling.
"I have no issue with what's being called. I really don't," Rivera said. "I think the thing we have to do, though, is put ourselves in better situations on first and second down. Then on third down, we have to make sure we're executing. We'll go from there."
Entering Sunday's game, Washington's pass rush knew it needed to make an impact in order to slow the Bills' offense. Allen is one of the league's best quarterbacks against the blitz, meaning Washington's front four was going to need to apply a lot of pressure.
That didn't happen, as Washington's loaded front finished the game without recording a single sack.
"They did a nice job of protecting the quarterback," Rivera said. "We didn't get enough pressure on them when we had to. It allowed for their receivers to work a little bit longer downfield."
Late in the second quarter, Washington scored on consecutive drives courtesy of Antonio Gibson and Taylor Heinicke. But as Washington started to build momentum, its defense was unable to stay off the field. Washington allowed a field goal on the ensuing drive, and after a quick three-and-out by Heinicke and co., Allen drove the Bills down the field for another three-pointer before the half expired. All of a sudden, what was a seven-point deficit quickly became a two-touchdown gap.
Entering the season, Washington's defense received loads of hype. Chase Young went on the record to say he thinks the group could be the NFL's best. Behind the team's vaunted defensive front, Jack Del Rio's unit was supposed to be the backbone of this 2021 Washington team.
Through three weeks, Washington's defense looks no better than some of the Greg Manusky and Joe Barry-led defenses from the 2010s.
"We have a lot of talent, but we have to get them to play as a unit. That's on us as coaches," Rivera said. "We have to make sure the things that we're doing, the things that we're creating for them are things they can work, function and be a unit together."
While Sunday's loss was a brutal one for Washington, the team has a prime chance to bounce back next week against a Falcons squad that barely edged the winless Giants on Sunday for Atlanta's first win of the season. Rivera believes how his club bounces back from this week's loss will tell a lot about the character of the team he's leading.
"It's going to be about what we learned from today and whether or not we get up. That's what we're going to be judged on," Rivera said. "You play long enough in it, you're gonna get beat this way. It happens. What you do the next week, that's what really your character is, a true test of what you're going to be. So we'll find out."