There are two positives for the Washington Football Team through the first four games of the season.
The first is it remains a .500 club following a come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Falcons. The second is the NFC East always is wide open.
Taking first place from the Dallas Cowboys could become second nature by midseason.
One would think after losing starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 2-2 record with backup Taylor Heinicke would be enough to put a smile on WFT coach Ron Rivera's face. But in fact, it's quite the opposite
He knows what Washington's upside can be after training camp. The performances against Atlanta and New York aren't it.
"I wouldn’t say relief, I'd say disappointment," Rivera told reporters Monday. "Because I think if we lived up to or played up to our abilities, if we’d done some of the things I think we're capable of defensively, I think we could be better than 2-2. But we're not. We are what our record says and that's 2-2."
In a way, Rivera isn't wrong. Washington sits in second place of the NFC East standings because of two plays. Without them, WFT would be 0-4.
In Week 2, an offsides penalty on New York Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence gave kicker Dustin Hopkins a second chance to kick a game-winning field goal. And last Sunday, a 30-yard touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic swung the lead in favor of WFT with under a minute to play.
Remove those two plays. Washington is 0-4 despite high end play from Heinicke. The climb up the rankings becomes even more challenging, and questions begin to arise of "what went wrong."
"We've been talking about this for four weeks," defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. "There's really not much left for me to say besides, 'We've just got to do better."
Defensively, there are major concerns. Projected to be one of the league's top defenses this season, coordinator Jack Del Rio's squad is instead statistically one of the worst.
Washington's defense is allowing 417.5 yards per game, the fourth-worst in the NFL. Keeping teams out of the end zone is another problem as WFT ranks third in points allowed (30.5).
Keep in mind that last season with Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller, Washington ranked top three in pass defense. The team finished ranked second in yards per game and fourth in points allowed.
"We don't have expectations," Allen said. "We have standards."
You could argue offensively, the standards are closer to being met. Despite Fitzpatrick's hip injury in Week 1, Heinicke has managed to keep the offense afloat.
In four games, the 28-year-old has thrown for 960 yards and eight touchdowns against three interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 59.4, a passer rating of 105.9 and has led two heart-stopping, game-winning drives.
Consider the goal of "filling in" met by both the fans and the staff in D.C.
"He knows that he could give us opportunities to make plays down the field as well," wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. "Can't say enough about him, the way he extends plays, the way he gives us a chance one each and every play. It's like, no play's ever dead when Taylor's back there."
The emergence of McLaurin shouldn't go unnoticed either. Every game, it feels as if his quest to become the next great pass-catcher is nearing its peak.
Already with two 100-yard games, McLaurin has 328 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons is not far-fetched.
Neither is a massive contract extension before his final year on the rookie deal.
WFT is far from out of the woods as it faces three potential playoff clubs. A home game against the New Orleans Saints is followed by a date with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, then a road trip to Green Bay to face the Packers.
Both teams made their respective conference championships last winter and feature an MVP at quarterback.
Washington must get better to remain in the division race. Defensively, things must change before it becomes out of control.
"We've got some things to work out, some things to give ourselves a chance to win football games," Rivera said. "I’m excited as we start the second quarter of the season.”