The NFL's regular season has long been a marathon, and this year, that marathon added one more game. For the Washington Football Team, though, this particular campaign must feel like a race with no end.
The fatigue that seems to be sapping the club of the momentum it found in November and early December stems from an abundance of obstacles that players and coaches have had to confront recently. Much of it has been out of their control, too.
There was the coronavirus outbreak that, at its peak, sent more than 20 members of the roster into the league's health protocols. Starters on both sides of the ball have had to miss pivotal matchups with the Eagles and Cowboys, with that former meeting featuring an offense led by Garrett Gilbert at quarterback due to Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen's untimely absences.
Then there are the guys who've been sidelined due to injury. JD McKissic and Landon Collins are both on injured reserve, meaning their time on the field in 2021 is over, while William Jackson III has been out the past game-and-a-half due to a calf problem.
Clearly, the depth chart has been in complete upheaval lately.
Yet those issues are nothing compared to a couple of late-December tragedies that the franchise is tied to.
Last week, Deshazor Everett was the driver in a car accident that resulted in the death of his passenger, Olivia Peters. On Tuesday, meanwhile, Montez Sweat's brother was killed in a shooting in Virginia.
Once you total up all of those setbacks and events, you end up with a team that's doing its absolute best to stay focused on competing but also one that openly discussed Wednesday how difficult that task has proven to be.
"As players you try not to let it affect us, but the reality is it might affect us," Heinicke said during a Zoom press conference with reporters.
"We're all human and we're going through things much bigger than football," Terry McLaurin explained. "You try to compartmentalize as best as you can, but at the same time, you still have human emotions and feelings."
After the Burgundy and Gold's blowout loss in Dallas this past Sunday, Ron Rivera, who up until then had largely attempted to deflect questions about how the constant drama was impacting his squad, finally relented and acknowledged the inevitable spillover.
"I mean, that's not normal [expletive]," Rivera said with serious passion. "That's real-life [expletive]."
On Wednesday, he expanded on how he's observed the outside noise seep into Washington's day-to-day operations.
"In some guys, you kind of see a little bit of a gaze every now and then, and that's when you go over and start a conversation," the coach said. "It is hard, it is tough and I promise you, it's not just us. There's 31 other teams in the NFL and then you think about all the other sports and all the other levels of other sports and then in every day life. We're just a microcosm of society itself. We're a snapshot of it. I promise you, there are people in the real world that are tired."
Rivera made clear he's not asking for extra sympathy; he's well aware that the pandemic and life's other stressors are present in everyone's lives, not just those of his athletes.
But as McLaurin detailed, the pressure of being in the NFL can make those struggles feel even more intense.
"The challenges we have in this building and the expectations, that can be a lot," McLaurin said. "I don't think any of us use that as a crutch or as an excuse because we know what comes with being a professional football player and the expectations that come with it, but it still does affect you.
"What's unique about what we do is that it's kind of magnified because we do it in a very public space."
Now, those in the organization understand that their occupation has also granted them many privileges and know they're demanded to, first and foremost, perform come kickoff.
As Jonathan Allen stated following the Week 15 loss in Philadelphia, those in the locker room "get paid to handle adversity."
Even so, watching teammate after teammate be placed on the COVID-19 list or having to hear about a peer losing his brother goes beyond the typical grind of a season.
Sure, other factors have majorly contributed to the current, disappointing 6-9 record — a porous third-down defense, up-and-down quarterback production and iffy personnel choices are all pieces of the puzzle that Washington has influence over — but, again, a good chunk of what's gone wrong this year can't be fixed through better practices or additional film study.
"It's hard enough as it is to win games in this league when things aren't happening," Heinicke said.