Hope fad­ing for ’Skins af­ter crit­i­cal loss

Wash­ing­ton’s path to play­offs nar­rows

USA TODAY International Edition - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - Mike Jones

PHILADEL­PHIA – Wash­ing­ton Red­skins play­ers didn’t need to hear the di­ag­no­sis. They knew there was no way in the world Colt McCoy would leave the game and head to the locker room with a team doc­tor if it wasn’t nec­es­sary.

For years, McCoy had waited for his chance to lead a team, but as the backup to well-es­tab­lished vet­eran quar­ter­backs, the op­por­tu­ni­ties never re­ally came. Un­til two weeks ago. That’s when Alex Smith broke two bones in his leg, need­ing emergency surgery to re­pair. McCoy took over as starter, em­brac­ing the chance to prove he could keep Wash­ing­ton atop the NFC East stand­ings and help se­cure a play­off berth.

But then it all ended for McCoy, not even two quar­ters into his sec­ond start, as he slipped awk­wardly while try­ing to elude a de­fender.

“I know Colt pretty well and I seen him on the side­line and I seen all the doc­tors around him, and if Colt had all the doc­tors around him, I knew some­thing was up,” Wash­ing­ton line­backer Ma­son Fos­ter re­called. “It’s a horrible feel­ing to see one of your friends, your broth­ers go down like that, and the look on his face, I knew he was re­ally hurt.”

The doc­tors’ find­ings re­vealed a bro­ken right fibula for McCoy, mean­ing for the sec­ond time in three weeks Wash­ing­ton had lost a start­ing quar­ter­back for the sea­son be­cause of a bro­ken leg.

Backup Mark Sanchez, signed two weeks ear­lier and the re­cip­i­ent of zero first-team snaps the pre­vi­ous week, failed to do enough to keep the Red­skins’ offense rolling. Mean­while, the de­fense failed to do enough to neu­tral­ize an Ea­gles’ offense that gained 436 yards, and Wash­ing­ton fell 28-13, their third con­sec­u­tive de­feat, and dropped to 6-6.

It’s crazy how quickly things can change in this league. Three weeks ago, the Red­skins led the NFC East and seemed to be gain­ing mo­men­tum. But two bro­ken quar­ter­back legs and three con­sec­u­tive sub­par de­fen­sive out­ings later, the squad is in dan­ger of fall­ing out of play­off con­tention and just might strug­gle to win another game this sea­son.

“I can’t even de­scribe it,” tight end Jor­dan Reed told USA TO­DAY. “It’s like a slap in the face how it all hits you at one time out of nowhere. You lose Alex and then lose Colt, this in­jury. You want to make the most out of the sit­u­a­tion, so you try to stay pos­i­tive and be­lieve that we can still be in this thing. As com­peti­tors, we have to.”

Be­liev­ing and ac­tu­ally do­ing are two differ­ent things. Do­ing so with their third quar­ter­back — a guy so new he doesn’t even fully know the play­book, and a man who con­fessed he didn’t even know the names of all of the team­mates who came up to him offer­ing words of en­cour­age­ment af­ter the loss — is as Sanchez put it, “a tall task, no doubt.”

But fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing Wash­ing­ton’s efforts is the fact that McCoy be­came the 15th Red­skins player to suffer a sea­son-end­ing in­jury. Wash­ing­ton is try­ing to make do with their third and fourth op­tions at right and left guard and with two tack­les who are play­ing at less than 100 per­cent health.

De­fen­sively, Wash­ing­ton has looked noth­ing like the squad that ranked among the league lead­ers early in the sea­son. In­stead, the Red­skins have sur­ren­dered 400-plus yards to op­pos­ing offenses in four of the last five games. Un­like the offense, in­juries are not to blame for the fre­quent de­fen­sive short­com­ings.

Coach Jay Gru­den and de­fen­sive play­ers all agreed Mon­day night that they have to play bet­ter and pro­vide greater sup­port for the bat­tered offense. But no one can pro­vide specific reasons for the re­gres­sion.

Find­ing an­swers on de­fense is a must if Wash­ing­ton truly ex­pects to have a chance. It’s pos­si­ble to win games (play­off matchups even) de­spite hav­ing a quar­ter­back with sig­nificant lim­i­ta­tions. Just ask Buffalo and Jack­sonville, which reached the play­offs last year although each of their quar­ter­backs av­er­aged less than 300 pass­ing yards per con­test. But those teams had dom­i­nant de­fenses that forced turnovers, got off the field on third downs and put the of­fense in po­si­tion to thrive. Wash­ing­ton’s de­fense cur­rently is not that.

Wash­ing­ton will host another round of quar­ter­back work­outs so they can have two healthy passers on the ros­ter. For now, Sanchez is the starter.

“We do have four games left, and it’s my job to be as op­ti­mistic as pos­si­ble and try to get this team ready for the Gi­ants,” Gru­den said. “And that’s the only thing we can do. We made a big point that we can­not feel sorry for our­selves.”

Hope is fad­ing fast for the Red­skins. But for now, they aim to cling to one another, hop­ing that helps them defy the odds.

JAMES LANG/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Af­ter the loss of two quar­ter­backs to sea­son-end­ing in­juries, the Red­skins’ play­off hopes ride on Mark Sanchez.

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