Heading into the season, most people figured the Redskins (2-1) would be an average to below-average team. I can recall only one analyst (NFL Network's Michael Lombardi) picking them to make the playoffs, and, predictably, he faced lots of criticism for doing so. Then the season started and the Redskins won their first two games.
Were they overly impressive wins? That's hard to tell, considering it's so difficult to accurately judge teams so early in the season. They beat an injury-depleted Giants team 28-14 in Week 1 and looked decent, though they needed an interception return by rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to seize the lead in the third quarter and take control of the game for good. In Week 2 against the Cardinals, the Redskins again looked decent, racking up 455 yards of total offense and rushing for 172 yards. But they were also down 21-13 late in the fourth quarter and needed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on a fourth down play and a crucial 34-yard Graham Gano field goal to pull out the 22-21 victory.
Last week's 18-16 loss to the Cowboys on Monday, which the Redskins could have won if they had taken advantage of several opportunities throughout the game, was more of a typical Redskins game. But fans are well accustomed to those kinds of ugly, underwhelming performances, particularly on Sunday or Monday night games.
The Cowboys and Giants are both 2-1, and the Cardinals are 1-2. But no one has a handle on exactly how good those teams are just yet -- just like the Redskins.
So how bad are the 0-3 Rams? They've lost by double digits in all three of their games, but they've also faced some strong competition in the Eagles, Giants, and Ravens. But if the Redskins are truly a decent team, they'll go to St. Louis and beat a winless team, which would put them at 3-1 going into their bye week.
To prove the critics wrong and actually have a chance at a 9-7 or a 10-6 season, the Redskins must throw everything they have at the Rams and win this game. Essentially, it's a "kitchen sink" game for them. Not only would it be awful to lose going into a bye week, but if they do lose, there will be two weeks of negative talk about the team, focusing on all the things this team hasn't done and trying to come up with answers even if there aren't any. If Rex Grossman has a bad game against the Rams, I also expect a ton of talk about benching him in favor of John Beck. Whether or not that actually happens is another thing, but no one would be surprised to see Beck get a chance if the Redskins struggle in yet another important game. No one thought that Mike Shanahan would bench a healthy Donovan McNabb in favor of Grossman last season, so going from Grossman to Beck wouldn't that surprising of a move.
With a loss, all of the positives surrounding the 2-0 start will disappear. That means, basically, it would be another long, Redskins-like season. The Redskins have shown flashes, particularly on defense, of being an improved team. And after a disappointing loss to the Cowboys, they need to score early and often against a bad, wounded team. Anything less would be, well, expected.