We’ve all experienced the tyranny of unmet expectations. No matter how good something is, if it doesn’t live up to our expectations, it’s a disappointment. The higher the expectations, the bigger the nearly inevitable letdown. And it really doesn’t matter how bad something is either…if it’s better than we expected, we can find our way to enjoying it. There’s no other way to explain the popularity of Taco Bell and Jack In the Box…we drive up expecting awful food for cheap, and because we’re too tired or too hungry to care, it seems slightly better than awful…so we’re pleasantly surprised. But I digress, since this isn’t about low expectations, it’s about unreasonably high expectations.
Many of the most hyped movies and albums and free-agent signings of all time were absolute flops…and not usually because they were abject failures in a vacuum, but because they didn’t come close to meeting expectations. For every Albert Haynesworth, where the failure was total and complete and unmitigated, there is a Kirk Cousins to Minnesota….if it weren’t for the insanity of astronomical expectations tied to an unprecedented amount of guaranteed money, Cousins’ actual performance would have led to him being seen for what he has always been…an above average quarterback who will win you more games than he will lose for you, but who can’t carry a team deep into the postseason on his own.
Many, if not most Washington Football Team fans have something we could call PDCD when it comes to offseason expectations: Post Disappointment Cynicism Disorder. There are several variations of the disease, depending on the individual case, but the common thread is this: no matter how bad the previous season was, they come into the next season expecting something between improvement and a Super Bowl win, only to be, inevitably and fantastically disappointed by the early season failures and quickly turn cynical and sarcastic when watching, evaluating and discussing the team. In this state, no fan actually watches games objectively. Just ask my daughter if I have been remotely rational or even-handed in my watching of the WFT games this season. Like most of the rest of you, I ride high on the ups and lose my mind on the downs…and for 30 years, now, the lows are made excruciatingly worse because I keep taking February through August to talk myself into unrealistic expectations.
There is only one antidote for this disease, and only the team can provide it: consistent winning. But under Dan Snyder, the team runs away from consistent winning like Cole Beasley runs away from a vaccine needle. So, this season, like most since the team moved out of RFK, signs of PDCD started popping up as early as the preseason with the offense looking anemic and the kicker looking lost. And then, with disappointing performances from what was hyped up to be an elite defense in all 4 out of the first 4 games, the team has begun to see symptoms even popping up within the locker room. Bobby McCain cracked when asked what the defense was working on mid-game.
The most concerning thing about this development is that it typically leads to a death-spiral…once the team starts spitting sarcasm and cynicism in defense of poor play, there is typically an acceleration of disfunction leading to a season plummeting into the tank….which sets us all up for unrealistic expectations of improvement the next year.
The reasons for this are simple enough: when your expectations are unrealistically lofty, there is almost no chance for the end result to be anything but a disappointment. And with disappointment comes embarrassment, frustration, blame shifting, scapegoating, finger-pointing, hand-wringing and a host of other hyphenated symptoms which lead to desperate off-season choices by ownership, and the beat goes on.
Look, The Reality Is pretty simple right now: this Washington Football Team is not good. Period. Full Stop. The offense is a bit better than expected, but the defense is so much worse than expected it completely overshadows the offense. Chase Young isn’t a DPOY candidate, Jamin Davis isn’t a DROY candidate. Outside of maybe Jon Allen, nobody on this defense is a Pro Bowler.
Outside of Terry McLaurin, Tress Way, Chase Roullier and possibly DeAndre Carter, nobody still healthy on offense or special teams is even a top half of the league starter. If you can’t acknowledge that, you’re really going to have a tough time managing your expectations and the symptoms of PDCD the rest of the season.
If you’re willing to acknowledge your expectations were out of line with reality, recalibrate, and move forward with revised expectations, you can actually enjoy the rest of the season. That’s how I’m approaching Weeks 5-8 leading up to the bye. I’m expecting zero wins. On paper, this team shouldn’t beat any of the Saints, Chiefs, Packers, or Broncos. In the meantime, I’m hoping Heinicke keeps it going, Terry continues to shine, the rookies develop into solid contributors, and the defense starts to look competent.
I’m looking for building blocks toward the future. If they get a win somewhere in there, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Some day, maybe, this team will live up to lofty expectations. One can only hope. In the mean time, come join me here in the land of adjusted expectations and the occasional pleasant surprise. It’s much less stressful.