The defense was supposed to safeguard the Washington Redskins from another dismal season while rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III matured. Instead, Griffin has been outstanding, while the defense may be the NFL's worst.
So much for great expectations.
"I thought the defense would be the strength of our team," coach Mike Shanahan said. "In order to win, especially with a young quarterback, you have to have a great defense and a great running game."
Washington's defense was overrun again in the 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at FedEx Field. The Redskins (1-2) have allowed at least 30 points in the first three games for the first time since 2001 and in seven of their last eight games overall.
After ranking 13th overall last year, they're now defenseless. Cincinnati scored on the opening play -- a 73-yard pass by a receiver that completely fooled Washington. The Bengals were so sure of their offense that they tried a fake field goal on fourth-and-5 when they led only 14-7. Surely there would be more chances if it failed, and sure enough Cincinnati scored on its next two possessions.
Don't blame this debacle on losing linebacker Brian Orakpo for the season. Replacement Rob Jackson scored on an interception in the end zone among his several big plays. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan's pass rush wasn't compromised by Orakpo's absence on the other side. He hit Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times and had half a sack.
Yet the Bengals gained 478 yards overall and needed only nine plays to score two touchdowns after the Redskins rallied to tie it at 24-24. Too often a secondary player was left far, far behind with Cincinnati scoring on 48-, 59- and 73-yard passes.
"It's extremely frustrating," linebacker London Fletcher said. "We thought we would be a better unit, and we will be."
The Redskins finally have the playmaking quarterback they've sought for years and have scored 99 points in three games. Those numbers would have made Washington a contender last season, when it once scored 20 points combined in a three-game span. The Redskins never exceeded 28 and didn't score their 100th point until the sixth game. Now it's a shootout every week.
"In the years past, if our offense gave us 24 points, that was almost like a win for us," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said.
Sure, the defense has been hindered by injuries. It lost defensive end Adam Carriker and Orakpo for the season. Safety Brandon Meriweather hasn't played, and cornerback Cedric Griffin hurt his hamstring against Cincinnati. Yet the offense scored 31 points even though left tackle Trent Williams barely played after injuring his knee on the second snap.
The scariest part is Washington has faced only three fair teams. An endless stream of playoff contenders soon follow, including their NFC East foes, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The Redskins can talk of working harder, but it's not about that. Until they can hold teams below 30 points, there will be no mercy each week.