Even though Washington is still technically alive in the playoff hunt, Sunday's game against the Eagles isn't really about a final postseason push. Nothing that happens in the club's meeting with Philadelphia will make much of a difference in its search for a trustworthy quarterback, either.
But what takes place at FedEx Field this weekend still carries a lot of weight, as it should provide a useful update for how Ron Rivera's franchise rebuild is progressing.
One would be forgiven for wondering why Week 17 is being hyped up in that regard when the team just lost by six touchdowns to the Cowboys in Week 16. How is that ghastly, alarming result not the indicator of where Rivera's project is heading as he closes in on the end of his second year in charge?
Well, yeah, that blowout was and will certainly continue to be used to take stock of what the coach is assembling with the franchise. You can't brush that mountain of garbage under the rug and hope that nobody notices. It was troubling in a lot of ways.
However, there were some extenuating circumstances surrounding that putrid effort in Dallas, as starters were missing and the locker room was still processing a terrible accident that involved one of their own. While those don't totally invalidate losing by 40-plus, they do at least provide a chunk of context behind such an underwhelming outing.
Now, against the Eagles, Washington's fortitude will be tested. Winning should still be the primary goal, even if the aforementioned playoff hopes are grim, but the players' skills will be second on the list of attributes worth measuring behind their resolve.
At least, that's what Rivera discussed this week.
"The more important thing is how we respond," Rivera said on Monday. "If we don't learn from it, if we don't understand exactly what it means and all that stuff, then it's a waste of time. Winning hides a lot of things. Winning masks a lot of things, and you have to really pay attention then to figure it out. But losing, it's right in your face. So if you don't learn from it, if it doesn't stand out to you, then you've really wasted that opportunity."
During his tenure at the helm of the franchise, Rivera has repeatedly espoused his intention to create a depth chart filled with names of guys who can handle the rigors of the NFL and deliver when adversity is most present. It's a necessity he described back when he was first introduced as Washington's new leader.
"You’re not going to play for this team, you’re not going to work for this team if you don’t have the discipline to give us everything you have," Rivera told reporters in January 2020. "No exceptions, no excuses. It’s that simple, guys. We have to hold each other accountable, and that’s something we most certainly will do. We’ll expect the most from each other."
With that in mind, there's no better chance to evaluate discipline and accountability than six days after an embarrassing drubbing that occurred on primetime television.
Having outlined all that, this league's matchups are often watered down by phrases like "gut check" and "showing pride" and "not rolling over," and perhaps those words have numbed fans when they read stories like this one.
Supporters in Washington can probably relate to that as well as anyone, seeing as this organization routinely fades in December and doesn't have much to compete for other than its dignity.
Yet this particular outing goes beyond one of those Hey, let's just ascribe some importance to Sunday because we all need something to get us through another appearance at FedEx Field.
Rivera's spent the last 24 months shaping Washington into the operation he wants it to become, both on the field and away from it. If 2020 was an encouraging — and slightly counterfeit — beginning, 2021 has been too inconsistent.
Between that unsteadiness and the nadir Washington experienced with the Cowboys, Rivera's squad better perform for four quarters against Philadelphia. A sizable piece of his credibility depends on it.
"This is a bad game," Rivera said Monday when processing the Dallas disappointment. "This ain't a direction. I'll tell you that right now."
The passion behind his statement was evident — but that claim will fall extremely flat if Washington does the same on Sunday.