There’s a saying in sports: “Have a short memory.” It’s a quaint, four-word phrase, but it conveys a broader meaning. It necessitates that an athlete doesn’t get over-confident or complacent after a win and doesn’t let a loss cascade into feverish self-doubt. Confidence in oneself and one’s teammates is a crucial factor for NFL teams week in and week out, and in Week 3, the Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera will face his next test.

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The next test for Washington head coach Ron Rivera

Rivera’s widely-advertised culture change hasn’t yet begun to bear fruit in Washington, D.C. There was vague talk of optimism in the offseason, and by starting 1-1 through the first two weeks, Washington notched one more win than what was expected. But it’s still too early to distinguish whether meaningful change can be traced in the results.

Washington gave off positive signals in Week 1 when they did something uncharacteristic of them in past years: They rallied from a 17-0 first-half deficit against the Eagles and ended up winning by double digits.

Under Jay Gruden, and even before that, Washington was often known for getting behind early and struggling to catch back up. Rivera’s team fulfilled the first half of that stereotype early in Week 1, but unlike his predecessors, he and his coaches were able to make the necessary adjustments, and the players, amidst Rivera’s new culture, were able to reset and take Philadelphia by storm in the second half.

What happened in Week 2?

Week 1 was a sign of meaningful change in D.C., but Week 2 was a different story. In Week 2, Washington lost to Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 30-15. Arizona dominated for four quarters, and whenever Washington had an opportunity to close the gap, they seemed to fumble it away, both metaphorically and literally.

Related | Terry McLaurin was a rare bright spot for Washington in Week 2

There weren’t many positives to take away from Sunday’s game for Washington. Still, in a sense, the loss, albeit disappointing, provides Rivera’s young squad with an opportunity to hit another crucial milestone in its cultural rebuild. They’ve rebounded within a game and displayed their resilience in the moment, but now, can they recover from a loss and avoid digging a larger hole for themselves?

For Rivera, execution of this goal will be predicated on a much simpler concept: Have a short memory. But it’s also vital that a balance is struck between minimal fixation on past mistakes and a healthy acknowledgment of those mistakes. Too much fixation can create doubt, but a failure to acknowledge mistakes will lead to them happening again.

This is a balance that many coaches have tried and failed to strike throughout the NFL’s history, and even some current coaches have trouble with that aspect of culture. Ideally, a roster will be largely self-sufficient, and players will understand the need for balance between fixation and forward-thinking. But the head coach ultimately sets that balance, and Rivera, coming off a loss for the first time in his Washington career, will have to decide how to proceed.

Can they bounce back against Cleveland? 

A loss in Week 3 could be dangerous for Washington. After the Cleveland Browns, Washington travels home, where they’ll host the 2-0 Baltimore Ravens and the 2-0 Los Angeles Rams in back-to-back weeks. Beyond that point, they have the 49ers, Seahawks, and Steelers on the schedule and the Cowboys twice.

There’s little to no room for error for Washington if they want to stay in the conversation and compete into December. Rivera undoubtedly knows this; he’s been around the block more than a couple times. But every team’s culture is different, and this week, coming off a loss, Rivera will have to find the best way to lead his team forward and bring them back from a low point. It’s a simple concept. But then again, it isn’t.