Ron Rivera's goal for Washington Football Team: 'Play two halves of football'

LANDOVER, Md. -- A microcosm of the Washington Football Team's season could be seen in both halves of Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It's a sign of where they are -- and why any preseason optimism has faded.

In the first two quarters, the Washington defense did what it was expected to do this season: Give the offense a chance, even against one of the NFL's top quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes. The defense held Kansas City to 10 first-half points, despite allowing 274 yards. But it made plays, with three takeaways.

That led to a 13-10 halftime lead. It also preceded a 31-13 loss.

The reason Washington has a 2-4 record heading into Sunday's road game against 5-1 Green Bay (1 p.m. ET, Fox) is because it struggles to play consecutive good halves, let alone games.

Washington has a tougher schedule this season, which has played into its sluggish start. It already has lost to the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Chiefs -- three teams considered among the best in the AFC and strong Super Bowl contenders. Two games after facing the 5-1 Packers, Washington will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1).

Washington also lost to the New Orleans Saints, in part because of two odd plays: A Hail Mary touchdown to close the first half and a 72-yard scoring pass when safety Landon Collins was caught by a quick snap and was out of position. In their 20-16 loss to the Chargers, a fourth-quarter fumble at their 5-yard line set up the winning points.

"We did lose to four good teams, but we could have also beat a couple of them," coach Ron Rivera said Sunday. "That's the hard thing to swallow if you're going to be honest with it. You are what your record says you are. The only way we can get better is to practice, work at it and then go out and play better. And that's pretty much what we have left."

This isn’t just about trying to climb into contention for a playoff berth; it's about establishing an identity to build on moving forward -- beyond 2021.

"We have to handle adversity," Rivera said. "We have to play two halves of football."

Last season, before Washington started winning, Rivera would say he just wanted them to play a good game -- and then another. The wins would follow. Eventually, they did as Washington won five of its last seven.

"This is the time we got to be men," Washington defensive end Chase Young said. "Got to look in the mirror. Gut-check time."

Winning isn't easy in the NFL, and for a team still trying to build any win is good. But even in Washington's two victories -- against the New York Giants (1-5) and Atlanta Falcons (2-3) -- there was cause for concern about the defense. They were not outings to build upon for a unit expected to be in or near the top 10, even with a schedule featuring most of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Instead: Washington ranks last in points allowed (31.0 per game) and 31st in yards allowed (423.0). The unit has underachieved from coaching on down.

The Giants, who average 19 points and 360.7 yards per game, reached a season high in points (29) and their second-highest yardage total (391) against Washington. Atlanta, averages 21 points and 345.6 yards, scored a season-high 30 and also posted its second-highest yardage total (374) against Washington.

Five of Washington's six opponents have scored more than their season average. Only the Chargers did not, but they gained 424 yards, their second highest total of the season.

Against Kansas City, the defense received little help from the offense and Mahomes completed 19 of 24 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.

"I think we told on ourselves, in the sense of that's what we're capable of," Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb said of holding the Chiefs to 10 points in Sunday's first half. "That's the standard we are going to hold ourselves to."

Offensively, Washington is undermanned. It played Sunday with backups starting at multiple spots: quarterback, right guard, right tackle, tight end and receiver. Not all played poorly, but the losses add up.

In three of his five starts, quarterback Taylor Heinicke has finished with a total QBR of 34 or worse. In the past two weeks combined, it's 26.5. In Washington's two wins, Heinicke guided late-game drives featuring perfectly placed passes and big plays aided by his legs.

But, unfortunately, given the injuries and how the defense is playing they need him to be something he's not: a franchise quarterback.

Their starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, remains on injured reserve with a hip injury suffered in the season opener. He's scheduled to have an MRI this week to update his recovery. His estimated recovery time was six to eight weeks.

"There's no panic. It's a long season. There's still a lot of football left," Heinicke said. "There’s a lot of guys pissed off, rightfully so. But again, hopefully we can just use that fuel for this week and get ready for Green Bay. It's going to be another tough game. But the guys aren't getting down. We're pissed off and we want to come back next week and get it going."