As Redskins free fall, players work hard to maintain hope

ASHBURN, Va. -- The facts are what they are: The Washington Redskins have lost four in a row and five out of six and have three games left. These, too, are facts: Mathematically they’re still alive, even if it feels like their season ended with a 24-point loss to the New York Giants. Or the minute Colt McCoy, their backup quarterback, broke his leg a week earlier.

They’ve lost two quarterbacks and several other teammates to injuries. But the players cling to what they do have -- namely, hope. But when you’re down to your fourth quarterback and third set of starting guards, you have no run game, and your defense is playing poorly, it’s hard to have a lot of that.

But until they’re officially out, the Redskins have to try to find a way in. At 6-7 and playing a 4-9 Jacksonville team on Sunday, they have to maintain belief in themselves. They’re trying.

“We’ve got to believe in what we do and just keep grinding this thing out,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said.

"We have to get in the right frame of mind,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We can't lose any confidence, but we have to understand we’ve got to work.”

Four weeks ago, the Redskins were 6-3, holding a two-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East. They’re now 6-7 and two games behind the Cowboys. Alex Smith was lost for the season with a compound spiral fracture in his leg that threatens his career. McCoy broke his leg two weeks later.

“I think about where we were before everything started going downhill,” Thompson said. “We were in a good place. We were 6-3, playing some of the best ball I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The defense had been playing amazing at that point. It’s a little frustrating. But I try to tell guys as much as I can, ‘Look back at what we did have or what we were doing right or doing well before these injuries to our quarterbacks happened.' We’ve got the talent to do it.”

Too much of that talent, though, is on injured reserve. Against the Giants, the Redskins started two backup tackles at guard. They started Mark Sanchez at quarterback but replaced him with Josh Johnson in the third quarter. Johnson had not attempted a pass since the 2011 season, but he looked sharper than Sanchez. He now becomes the Redskins' fourth starting quarterback.

“Johnson came in and did a great job,” Redskins running back Adrian Peterson said. “That right there created a different spark for us. It was obvious when he came in we started moving the ball and scoring points. That right there is hope alone. If we get this guy in there for four quarters and start off the way we started when he came in, we have a chance to be productive offensively, and defensively they feed off us.”

Johnson threw for 195 yards and ran for 45. He will start for the first time since 2011 for a team whose players he barely knows. He has to do it for a team that remains wounded by the Smith injury; players looked beyond Smith's modest stats -- 10 touchdowns, five interceptions -- to explain his impact.

“He was never shaken with the pressure,” Thompson said. “From pregame to the end of the game, he was the same guy. Nothing ever changed. He would get aggravated if things weren’t going right, but you would never see him lose himself. He would always tell us we’ll be all right. There was this aura about him. He just gave everybody that extra boost of confidence.”

That’s what the Redskins need now. They’ll have to get it from Johnson.

“It hurts bad when you lose your guys like that,” Thompson said. “And then you go on a losing streak, and that affects guys' confidence when you’re not playing as well as you were before. We’ve got to find a way to get over that hump.”