When Washington's 2021 schedule was first released, Ron Rivera directed most of his attention to the five-game stretch against NFC East rivals that lingered at the end of the regular season. Rivera often referred to the sequence as a "round-robin tournament."
Washington has been roundly defeated in that tournament so far.
The Burgundy and Gold, who began the year 2-6, battled through November and early December to get back to .500 and give themselves a chance at the playoffs. At that point, what stood between them and their destination was matchups versus the Cowboys, at the Eagles, at the Cowboys, versus the Eagles and at the Giants.
Daunting, yet also doable.
But then Washington was outclassed by Dallas, outlasted by Philly, pummeled by Dallas and put down by Philly once again, meaning the team's four-game win streak has now been sandwiched by two far more telling four-game skids.
Sails that once had wind in them are now completely tattered.
"We got into the division and just didn’t get it done," Terry McLaurin said at the FedEx Field podium on Sunday. "That could make or break your season and it kind of broke ours."
As meager as the 2020 NFC East was, Rivera's team still earned a title for finishing atop of it and hosted a playoff game thanks to that crown. A banner is a banner in the NFL.
Therefore, what Rivera and his players have experienced recently must be awfully humbling.
"Frustrating," Jonathan Allen told reporters when he stood behind the microphone.
Should the Cowboys scratch out one more victory in Week 18, they'll double their win total from a campaign ago. The Eagles, meanwhile, have already more than doubled theirs.
As for Washington, beating the Giants next Sunday would only help equal its seven triumphs in 2020. And this time around, that number isn't good enough to advance further into the winter months.
"I think we have moments. I really do," Rivera said in his press conference. "I think we still have ways a way to grow, though."
Rivera's statement implies that the organization will in fact progress. That's never a guarantee with this operation. More often than not, it's actually wishful thinking.
While Dallas is drowning in talent and Philadelphia is settling into a seriously-effective style of play, Washington remains in search of a trustworthy quarterback, additional difference makers and good old-fashioned consistency. There's currently a clear line between the top of the NFC East and the bottom, and Rivera's club resides below it along with New York.
Now, this is a quartet that possesses as much parity as any in this sport or others, seeing as there hasn't been a repeat champ since 2004. In that respect, Washington's tumble down the standings is at least understandable.
However, when the head coach — on multiple occasions — expresses an eagerness to watch his squad test itself against its most familiar foes only to falter in the first four contests, total disappointment has to be the principle takeaway.
Rivera will bring up the circumstances that detracted from and distracted his roster of late, and sure, that context is important. What must be mentioned above all else, though, is that Washington — once again — isn't competitive in its own division, meaning it's not even close to being competitive with the rest of the league's best.