BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera called it a measuring-stick game. If that is the case, then Sunday's 43-21 road loss against the Buffalo Bills told Rivera one thing: His team is not close.
"We've got a long way to go," he said after the game.
Not a soul would disagree.
Before the season, Rivera said his message to the team was: Now what? As in: You won the NFC East by going 5-2 down the stretch last season. Now what will you do?
That message will be the same this week as Washington prepares for a road game against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Fox). But it's with a negative twist: You got beat bad. Now what?
"You play long enough, you're going to get beat this way. It just happens," Rivera said. "What you do the next week, that's really the indicator of what your character is and the true test of who you're going to be."
A team that entered the season hoping to build on last season's hot finish and NFC East title, albeit with a 7-9 record, has only built on the frustration endured by fans for most of the past two decades. At 1-2, Washington's season is far from over, but the problem is the way it has played -- especially the defense.
Washington continues to stumble against good quarterbacks. Buffalo's Josh Allen, who had struggled the first two games, completed 32 of 43 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns against Washington.
That's a bad sign entering October, when Washington is scheduled to face Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers). Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) is the first quarterback they are scheduled to face in November.
The defense was supposed to be the anchor for this team as it matured on offense. Instead, Washington now needs backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke -- a guy out of the league for two years until December -- to play like a Pro Bowler to win. Heinicke is not a Pro Bowler. He is a feel-good story who shouldn't have all the pressure on his shoulders to produce. Sunday, he showed what happens when he is asked to do too much. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, but threw two costly interceptions when Washington was still in the game.
"We'll have a lot to learn from," Heinicke said.
Washington's problems run way deeper than one person or position group. This summer, Rivera fretted at times about the team's maturity. It's not as if the organization felt this was a finished product.
"We got to mature together, we got to become a team together, got to play as a unit and play as positions," Rivera said. "The defensive line has to work together. The unit, pass rush and coverage got to work together, stuff like that. Those are the types of things [that take time] when you got young guys out there, new guys out there together."
Washington's defense ranks 31st in third-down percentage (58.7). In games against Allen and the Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert, it allowed a combined 23 of 34 third downs to be converted. Sunday, on the Bills' opening drive, it allowed a 23-yard pass on third-and-15.
Washington's front four, featuring all No. 1 draft picks, did not apply enough pressure to bother Allen. He wasn't sacked. Second-year end Chase Young has not recorded a sack in three games; he was close to some but hasn't generated the pressure he or others had hoped. Yet.
"I ain't frustrated," Young said. "I feel good running around out there. We got to play together; we're not doing that right now. The D-line, we're not the only people on the field. It's the linebackers, it's the DBs. We all have to play as one."
Young was seen in an animated discussion on the sideline with coordinator Jack Del Rio during the game. Young said he wanted Del Rio to know he didn't want any players making excuses.
"If someone [is] bulls---ing you, let me know, because I ain't having that," Young said he told Del Rio.
Rivera said his fear is that when watching film of this game, "we'll see some mistakes and we'll sit there and say, 'Man, we did that last week. We're not learning.'"
Washington was 2-6 last season before turning its season around. The players know 1-2 is not cause for panic, but until they start playing better, a turnaround will be difficult. And the criticism will flow.
"Our mental place is at a good spot. But when you come out here and we have a day like [Sunday], everybody's got to amp it up even more," Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller said. "As a team, as a defense, as an offense -- you don't pay attention to anything outside, anything that anybody say doesn't matter."
But what people on the outside are saying is the same as what their coach is saying.
"Right now we're not where we're supposed to be," running back Antonio Gibson said. "Far from it. But it's a long season."