Better than expected. Worse than expected. That's the Redskins as they look to the second half of the season.
They're 4-4, having won some games improbably and lost others in equally mind-boggling fashion. They've won with a minimal running game, a struggling quarterback and a defense yielding massive yardage. They've lost that way as well.
No one needs reminding they've already won as many games as they did in 2009. Yet there's always that air of expectation and anticipation, of what could be and might be and it's not just an affliction of fans.
The hiring of Mike Shanahan as head coach and the trade for Donovan McNabb energized the public, no doubt. It also may have raised the players' view of what they could become and how quickly.
"I think we thought we were better than what we were as a team. We need to reevaluate ourselves and not take things for granted," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "We had Shanahan, Donovan coming in, and you think you're going to win every game. But we're an average team at 4-4."
Average? They've already won twice in the division, which they did not do at all last year. They've won twice on the road. They also let a 17-point lead vanish at home against the Houston Texans and fell apart at the end of a nasty loss on the road to the Detroit Lions. Better than expected and worse as well.
Outside the locker room, hopes get raised and crushed. Those who did not expect the Redskins to be 4-4 may be heartened and waiting for more. Some see things that might have been and .500 leaves them downcast.
"They should be disappointed," defensive end Phillips Daniels said. "We let a few games get away. There were three games we probably should have won. We could have been leading the division, or tied. We are who we are right now – 4-4."
Not a bad thing, all in all.
"We picked things up pretty fast, learning two new schemes on offense and defense. Just to be in the situation we're in, to have a chance, nobody gave us a chance to be where we are," Daniels said. "I think it tells you a lot about the leadership and the character on the team. We've lost some games that we probably should have won but at the same time we're in a good spot with .500."
While the defense has perked up with its penchant for turnovers, the offense continues to lag. Progress on that side of the ball has been slower in coming.
"I feel like we've been pushing the right buttons at the right time but we just haven't been getting the same thing out of it that we want. I just hope as an offense we can look a lot better than we looked in these first eight games," receiver Santana Moss said.
The Redskins need to score more points. Plain and simple. They must improve their third-down efficiency, extend drives and make the most of their trips into the red zone.
"There's a number of areas we have to improve in," Shanahan said. "Basically, every area. Collectively, we have to get better."
The Redskins are not looking at any "gimme" games in the second half of the season, not that they tend to take advantage of those perceived soft spots. Remember those losses to the St. Louis Rams and the Lions?
The second half kicks off at home with the Philadelphia Eagles (5-3). Then the Tennessee Titans (5-3) away. There are two games against the NFC East-leading New York Giants (6-2). The Minnesota Vikings seem more dangerous than their 3-5 record and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-3. The Jacksonville Jaguars are 4-4. Who knows how the downtrodden Dallas Cowboys (1-7) will respond to interim coach Jason Garrett?
A treacherous path awaits. Though that's what was said about the schedule in the first half, which opened with highly-touted (and now disappointing) Dallas and Houston. The three-game stretch against the Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts was deemed especially brutal but the Redskins won two of those after splitting with the Cowboys and Texans.
"I think we're better than people thought we were going to be. With that stretch we had, I think people thought we'd come out more like 2-6," Alexander said.
McNabb's sore hamstrings remain a concern. The noise about Shanahan's hooking of his quarterback against the Lions refuses to abate. Like any team in the middle of the pack, the Redskins face challenges internally and externally.
"It's all in our hands," Alexander said. "If we're hitting right, I don't see anybody that can play with us. That's the hard part, going out there and doing it."
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman