The Washington Football Team comes out of its Week 9 bye with a 2-6 record, the same mark the franchise had through eight games last year. How Washington closed out Ron Rivera's inaugural season with the club is well documented: an improbable NFC East title.
Yet, unlike in 2020, there isn't a divisional race up for grabs to the NFC East team who has struggled the least. Dallas currently has a four-game advantage over the Burgundy and Gold and a three-game lead over the Eagles and Giants. Even if Washington were to win its final nine games, there's a chance that still wouldn't be enough for the division crown.
Despite the odds being stacked against Washington moving forward, Rivera believes his team is capable of going on another run to close out the 2021 season -- even if it doesn't result in a division crown or playoff berth.
"Absolutely I can," Rivera told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay. "That's one thing, to me, that you always look for."
During Rivera's tenure in Carolina, his Panthers teams usually finished the season a lot stronger than they began it. In his nine years with Carolina, the head coach posted a 30-31-1 record (.469 winning percentage) through his team's first seven games. But from Week 8 onward, Rivera's Panther teams finished 48-36 (.571 winning percentage).
That trend continued last year in Rivera's first year with Washington, as his club went 5-4 over the team's final nine games, including a four-game winning streak, and defeated the Eagles in Week 17 to clinch the franchise's first division title in five seasons.
When looking at his current team, Rivera sees "a lot of similarities" to the squad's he's previously coached that have finished the year strong.
"A lot of things that I went through my first few years, I see a lot of similarities. I saw a lot of similarities to what happened to us last season in terms of playing well at the end, which is what we did my first year," Rivera said. "My second year we had a few setbacks, had some things go awry. We had some key injuries. We had a kicking problem. But we turned it around and [won] five of our last six games. I'm hoping to see the same type of trend here now, just because of how the guys have played the last few weeks.
"Unfortunately, we haven't scored the points we've needed to when we got to the red zone," Rivera said. "And unfortunately, we haven't won. But I do see reasons to be optimistic towards our growth and development."
Earlier this year, Rivera went on the record and said it was somewhat of a "curse" that his club won the NFC East at just 7-9 last season. With that came high expectations and a first-place schedule this season. Washington has fallen well short of its preseason expectations, while its tough schedule has led to losses against some of the NFL's best.
Rivera's club has struggled to handle adversity when faced with it this season, something the head coach said he was concerned about entering the year.
"My concern coming into this year was our maturity level," Rivera said. "Had we learned? Had we grown? Had we understood what it is that we have to do to give ourselves the opportunity to win, to be successful? The thing that I've noticed is handling adversity is one thing we haven't been really good at. Something bad happens in the game, we've got to step up, we have to stop it and turn the tide and take advantage."
Rivera has gone on the record multiple times since he was hired to say that the changing of Washington's culture is a 3-to-5 year process. He's made it clear that it's not an overnight fix.
So, now that Washington is going through growing pains in Year 2 under Rivera, the head coach is doing what he knows to do best: stick to what has worked for him in the past.
"This is about a process," he said. "This is about building and doing it the right way. One of the things I've learned is you have to stick to the process."