It's hard enough to win in the NFL.
But having to defeat multiple opponents -- which is how head coach Ron Rivera described Sunday's game in Arizona -- is especially challenging for a group as young as the Washington Football Team.
"We played two teams today: we played them and ourselves," Rivera said following the 30-15 defeat. "We hurt ourselves in the first half when you go back and look at it."
A bevy of mistakes put Washington in an early hole, and unlike its historic comeback in Week 1, it was not able to muster up enough offense to keep up with the Cardinals' explosive attack. However, Rivera believes this game will serve as a "great learning experience" for the team as it attempts to become a consistent and sustainable winner.
"These are growing pains," Rivera told reporters. "We won a game last week, everybody's excited -- I was excited, I'm enthusiastic because we have a good football team. We've just got a lot to learn. We're a young team, and that's just really the way it is."
The miscues began on the opening kickoff, when an illegal block above the waist backed up Washington inside its own 10-yard line. Then, on 3rd-and-7, Logan Thomas could not haul in a catchable pass from Dwayne Haskins Jr. deep down the right sideline. Punting out of his own end zone, Tress Way booted a 50-plus yarder that was returned for a short gain thanks to a solid coverage from Cam Sims. But after a holding call, Arizona began its opening possession in plus territory.
Washington's defense, which smothered the Eagles after a slow start in Week 1, had three chances to get off the field during its first possession Sunday. On 3rd-and-2, Montez Sweat fell for a fake hand-off that allowed Kyler Murray to run free around left end. Later, on a 3rd-and-3, Fabian Moreau bumped into Landon Collins, leaving DeAndre Hopkins with plenty of room to run after the catch.
And on 3rd-and-goal from the four-yard line, Hopkins ended up wide open in the back-middle of the end zone. Fewer than six minutes into the game, Washington trailed by a touchdown.
"We had a specific coverage on, and unfortunately there was a little miscommunication on the release," Rivera said. "We do specific things off of releases, and apparently the two players did not see it the same, so that's something we have to get corrected."
While not ideal, Washington (1-1) could live with this result, especially considering all of Arizona's conversions came on third-and-short situations. It was the turnovers that followed that gave the Cardinals all the momentum they needed in an eventual victory.
The first setback happened almost immediately after the interception from Collins, which set up Washington inside the red zone. Haskins then completed two passes to set up a first-and-goal.
Even if Washington's offense could not score the game-tying touchdown, Dustin Hopkins would have attempted a short field goal to try and cut the lead to 7-3. But as Haskins dropped back to pass, Jordan Phillips got around Brandon Scherff and hit Haskins' arm just as he went to release the pass. The ball popped into the air and into the hands of Chandler Jones, eliminating any hope of putting points on the scoreboard.
"I couldn't really do much at all to be honest with you," Haskins said of the play. "I went over that play multiple times in my head, watched the surface clips, and sometimes the defense has good plays, and they matched up pretty well. Chandler Jones made a hell of a play on the ball...but it just happens. They're good players, too."
Washington's defense did its job following the giveaway to force Arizona into a quick punt, only to return to the field one play later after a fumble from Steven Sims Jr. With the ball at the opposing 40-yard line, the Cardinals easily marched down the field to go ahead two touchdowns as the first quarter came to a close.
As Washington attempted its second straight comeback, other issues allowed Arizona to extend its lead to 20-0 by halftime.
Troy Apke gave up a 54-yard reception, which set up the Cardinals' first field goal. Offensively, Washington had second and two or fewer yards three times in the second quarter. Two of those possessions ended in punts, while the third required a 4th-and-1 conversion from Peyton Barber. Later in that drive, Haskins took a sack that knocked Washington out of field goal range.
By limiting its mistakes in the second half, Washington outscored the Cardinals, 15-10, and outgained them, 220-194. Haskins orchestrated three scoring drives of at least 60 yards, while Terry McLaurin surpassed 100 yards receiving and rookie Antonio Gibson scored his first-career touchdown. For a moment, it looked as though another come-from-behind win was within reach.
But in the end, Washington's early mishaps proved too costly. Learning from them will be crucial as the team hopes to turn a minor setback into long-term growth.
"We're a good football team," Rivera said, "but we're not experienced enough to overcome helping the other team beat you."