If you predicted a 6-10 record for Washington’s inaugural season under coach Jay Gruden, you witnessed enough evidence Sunday afternoon to feel secure in that prognostication.
If you foresaw a 10-6 campaign as Robert Griffin III rebounds from a forgettable sophomore experience, you can point to encouraging signs that bolster the forecast,
That’s the beauty of Week 1. You usually can see whatever you choose – good or bad – to reinforce your thoughts entering the season. Ammunition exists for pessimists and optimists alike.
The two-way vision doesn’t work in every case. Dallas fans can try to turn Tony Romo’s three interceptions into a lemonade stand, but most aren’t buying. Those lemons have been too sour for too long to hope for a sweet outcome.
Teams that were victorious can check off a list of negatives, too, which their coaches gladly share each week. Philadelphia got the win against Jacksonville, but surely coach Chip Kelly’s script didn’t include a 17-0 halftime deficit.
Likewise, coach Mike Tomlin will temper Pittsburgh’s victory by alluding to the 24 consecutive points Cleveland scored to tie the game before Ben Roethlisberger directed a last-gasp drive for the winning field goal.
Highlighting the things that went wrong when you’re 1-0 is a luxury. Looking to accentuate the positive when you’re 0-1 is a necessity. Jacksonville and Washington will enter Sunday’s game at FedEx Field with a half-full approach; but one will depart with a completely empty win column.
Even the fans who predicted 6-10 for the home team counted the Jaguars as a win, so let’s start with their rosy viewpoint.
Here’s the most promising indicator that Sunday will be different: J.J. Watt will be in Oakland instead of Washington’s backfield.
Few NFL teams employ a one-man wrecking crew as devastating as Houston’s defensive end. He knocked down passes, kicks and RG3. He treated offensive linemen like blocking dummies. He made his $100 million contract seem like a bargain.
But despite the way Watt dominated the game, Washington rushed the ball well. Alfred Morris had 91 yards on 14 carries and Roy Helu gained 46 yards on four carries. The Eagles rushed for 145 yards against the Jags, including a 49-yard TD run by Darren Sproles.
There’s another reason to believe Sunday’s performance against the Texans will be more aberration than the norm. There can’t be many games in which a team will lose two fumbles at its opponents’ 7-yard line. And the odds must be long that a team will have an extra-point and a punt blocked in the same game.
Seriously, those freakish miscues can’t occur more than once per season, right?
Washington’s defense yielded just one touchdown, on a 76-yard pass that couldn’t be played any worse by safety Bacarri Rambo. Take away that play and the blocked-punt touchdown, and Jacksonville hardly did squat.
But that’s the point of everyone who pegged Washington as a 6-10 outfit. It’s always something with this team and you can’t magically eliminate negative plays.
The Texans had lost 14 consecutive contests. The quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was starting for his fifth franchise. The No. 1 overall draft pick, Jadeveon Clowney, left with a knee injury in the second quarter. The coach, Bill O’Brien, was making his NFL debut just like Gruden.
In the long run, aspirations aren’t very high if Houston is your measuring stick. Beating the Texans would count as a win, but it wouldn’t say much about the program’s standing.
Jacksonville isn’t a much better gauge, either.
This is where Washington finds itself, the game that opponents circle on the schedule as “winnable.” The Jaguars will come to town believing they blew a prime opportunity to win their opener. The home team feels the same way.
Losers have no choice but to quit or adopt the “we’re close” mindset: We would’ve … if only … we could’ve … except for … we should’ve … next time.
Can Washington still have a respectable season? Stranger things have happened. No one predicted a seven-game win streak to end the 2012 regular-season schedule.
Maybe the line will hold and RG3 will settle down in the pocket. Maybe special teams will shore up the blocking and take advantage of Andre Roberts’ return skills. Maybe ball carriers will get a better grip and safeties will take better angles.
There are l5 games left, plenty of time for the 6-10 crowd or the 10-6 bunch to be proven wrong.
The only thing they agree on is clear to see: There’s lots of room for improvement.
But when it comes to the likelihood of significant progress by season’s end, the points of view go in totally opposite directions.