With expectations suitably dampened, a fairly dire display against Italy could be the best thing that ever happened to this England team. Everyone is aware that a performance like that will not be good enough to beat Wales in Cardiff next weekend, and after only coming away with a seven point win England risk losing not only the Grand Slam but the Championship itself. Here are a couple of areas where the game was won and lost on Sunday.
The most telling statistic to come out of the game was that Italy conceded nearly three times as many penalties as England. This, in the end, was what did for them. Toby Flood may not have had his best game with ball in hand, but he was exemplary from the tee and he made sure that the Azzuri were punished for their infringements.
Conversely, when England did get pinged (which happened only five times to Italy's fourteen), Luciano Orquera was unable to make them pay. It is a shame, because Italy were superb at times. Sergio Parisse is a talismanic leader and a totem of quality who inspires his teammates to raise their game. It is no coincidence that this looked a different team to the one that capitulated against the Welsh in round three, when he was absent through suspension.
Andrea Masi, Luke McClean, Joshua Furno and Alessandro Zanni all impressed and Masi was one of many who could have won the man-of-the-match honours. It is quite rare for that number of players from the losing team to be amongst the frontrunners for such an accolade, and this is why it is such a travesty that their discipline let them down - they could quite easily have won the game.
England may have been rudderless in attack, lacking direction and composure, but their defence was, for the most part, excellent. One box kick that will haunt Danny Care's nightmares and a smart piece of opportunism from the mercurial Orquera were the only blips in what was otherwise a solid defensive display.
And it needed to be. The Italians were relentless in the final fifteen minutes, sending wave after wave of attacks crashing onto England's defensive line, much as they had had to endure themselves in the opening exchanges.
None of the England coaches will have been particularly happy after that performance - least so Mike Catt, whose backs somehow squandered golden opportunity after golden opportunity - but defence coach Andy Farrell will perhaps be the least unhappy.
They do say that one of the signs of a great team is that they can win without playing well, but one wonders how many more times England are going to get away with doing that. Certainly, against Wales next weekend the level of performance will need to be stepped up significantly.
The problems on Sunday stemmed from a lack of composure. The ability to be clinical is a hallmark of all great sides, and England know they cannot afford to throw away so many good opportunities next weekend. The likes of Care, Flood and full-back Alex Goode must bare the brunt of the criticism as the players in the key decision-making positions who were found wanting on Sunday. They are all good enough players to bounce back though.
For all the disappointment surrounding the performance, England are four from four and still have a chance to win the Grand Slam. They deserve credit for that.