- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2021

After reviewing the film of Sunday’s 43-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Ron Rivera didn’t seem as dejected as he was following the game. The Washington coach said he didn’t think the team was “far off” from turning the season around, despite a 1-2 record.

Of course, he’s not the only coach in the league maintaining an optimistic point of view after a disappointing start.

“We’re not going to push the panic button,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team is just 1-2.

Washington and Pittsburgh are two playoff teams from a year ago that have struggled in the opening weeks — but they’re not alone. Through Week 3, six teams that made the postseason in 2020 are under .500. In addition to Washington and Pittsburgh, there’s Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis and, perhaps most surprisingly, Kansas City.

So Washington fans aren’t the only true believers who are freaking out that the year may not go according to plan. Washington came into the year with high expectations after winning the NFC East last year with a 7-9 record and a promising young defensive unit.  

That unit, however, has underperformed. Washington is ranked near the bottom, 29th, in points against, 31st in yards allowed, 29th in passing yards given up and 25th in rushing yards surrendered. The defensive line, hyped as one of the league’s best, has been quiet, registering five of the team’s six sacks. 

The Colts are in a similar boat — only it’s their offensive line, not the defensive line, that has been much worse than expected. At 0-3, Indianapolis has struggled to protect quarterback Carson Wentz, who has been sacked eight times. The Colts have also dealt with injuries up front, with All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson (ankle) carted off in Sunday’s loss.

Indianapolis’ brass hoped the offseason addition of Wentz from Philadelphia would help keep the team in title contention after Philip Rivers retired. But Wentz, who has a shaky injury history, has already dealt with foot and ankle injuries, not even a full month into the season. 

The NFL normally produces a handful of new playoff teams each season. And it can be common for a team to regress. But some slow starts have been unexpected. 

While the Chiefs (1-2) have lost to the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers — both above .500 — Kansas City was seen as a favorite to win this year’s Super Bowl because of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ defense, though, might prevent Kansas City from even reaching the big game: The unit has given up 31.6 points per game — second-most in the league.

Seattle’s sluggish 1-2 record has also caught people off guard. The Seahawks have quarterback Russell Wilson and top receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, but that might not matter if the defense keeps blowing games. Seattle squandered a fourth-quarter lead to the Titans in Week 2, while Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings handled the Seahawks a 30-17 defeat this past weekend.

If defense has been the problem for teams like Seattle, Kansas City and Washington, it’s offense — or lack thereof — that has derailed Chicago and Pittsburgh. Bears coach Matt Nagy came under heavy fire for his game plan after rookie Justin Fields threw for just 68 yards in Sunday’s 26-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Bears started Fields, the 11th overall pick in the draft, in Week 3 after starter Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury the game prior. 

As for the Steelers, there are suddenly questions about whether Ben Roethlisberger can still be an effective NFL starter at 39 years old. Roethlisberger’s performance tapered off as the year went along in 2020, and to start this season, the two-time Super Bowl champion has posted a 79.0 quarterback rating with three touchdowns to three interceptions. 

Following Pittsburgh’s loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals, Tomlin said he did not consider benching Roethlisberger.  Mason Rudolph is Pittsburgh’s backup, while former Washington starter Dwayne Haskins has been the team’s third-string signal-caller. 

Tomlin gave Roethlisberger a vote of confidence — and, like most coaches, stressed that it’s a long season.

“We’re not going to dramatically change who and what we are at this juncture,” Tomlin told reporters. “We’re not resistant to change for the purposes of getting better, but we’re not going to be so unsteady that we move away from our compass, our identity that we’ve worked hard to develop — and will continue to work hard to develop — and the emphasis on the style of play, whatever that may be in all three phases.”

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