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Cooley breaks bone in right ankle, is likely lost for season

By Rick Maese
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

As if suffering their fifth defeat in seven games wasn't painful enough, the Washington Redskins lost the most reliable component of an unreliable offense in Monday night's 27-17 loss to Philadelphia. Tight end Chris Cooley, a two-time Pro Bowler, broke a bone in his right ankle. Sources said he is likely to miss the remainder of the season.

"When it rains, it pours," center Casey Rabach said. "We lost a really good football player tonight, probably one of the best on our offense."

With a new play-caller running the show against the Eagles, Cooley figured to play a major role in the Redskins' offensive production Monday night. In fact, the team's first two offensive plays targeted Cooley -- first an 18-yard reception from quarterback Jason Campbell, followed immediately by a three-yard reception.

But with the offense still searching for its rhythm, Cooley was hurt on the Redskins' first play of the second quarter, a play in which Campbell was stripped of the ball and the Redskins lost possession.

Cooley planted his right foot on the play and appeared to roll his ankle. He was not hit and limped off the field. Just a few minutes later, Cooley left the field on a cart and didn't return. In the locker room, Cooley had X-rays that immediately revealed the grim results.

Coach Jim Zorn said the break is on the inner side of Cooley's tibia. He could not say Monday night whether Cooley would be able to return this season.

"I haven't seen the X-ray myself, but we're quite certain it's broke or fractured in some way," Zorn said, "and we'll make a better diagnosis [Tuesday]. He'll be out for a while now until this thing is healed up."

Cooley was not available to comment immediately following the game.

Since the Redskins selected him in the third round of the 2004 draft, Cooley, a perennial fan favorite at FedEx Field, has been as dependable as anyone. He has not missed a single game in his career with the Redskins. His string of 71 consecutive starts, the most of any current Washington player, will likely come to an end when the Redskins play at Atlanta on Nov. 8.

"It's gonna be a tough road now," backup tight end Todd Yoder said. "We lost Cools tonight, there's another offensive weapon down in an offense that obviously has already been struggling. So we're gonna have to find it through other guys, and hopefully some younger guys and other guys will step up and start making plays."

Cooley's loss is the latest for the struggling offense. Of the team's four offensive Pro Bowlers from last season, two have suffered serious injuries this season -- Cooley and left tackle Chris Samuels, who is expected to be placed on injured reserve during the Redskins' upcoming bye week. (Fullback Mike Sellers and running back Clinton Portis are the others.)

One of the league's top receiving tight ends, Cooley will likely be missed most by Campbell.

Since Campbell took over the starting quarterback spot in November 2006, Cooley has been his favorite target. Campbell's first career touchdown, in fact, was to Cooley. They hooked up again the following week for a 66-yard score, which still stands as Cooley's career long.

Cooley has led the Redskins in receptions all three seasons Campbell has been a starter. This season, he posted a team-high 29 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns before suffering the ankle injury.

Earlier this season, Cooley saw his streak of consecutive games with at least one catch end at 76 games in a loss to the Carolina Panthers.

He finished Monday night's game with 21 yards on two catches. When he left the game, Campbell had already targeted him four times; no other Redskin had been targeted more than once at that point.

Replacing Cooley in the lineup against the Eagles, fellow tight ends Yoder and Fred Davis saw significant minutes Monday night. In fact, Davis, the Redskins' second-round pick in the 2008 draft, turned in the best game of his brief career.

"First thing he said when Chris got hurt was, 'J, just give me a chance,' " Campbell said. " 'I can make it happen.' "

Campbell targeted Davis 10 times after Cooley went down, and Davis finished the night as the team's leading receiver with 78 yards on eight receptions -- both career highs. In fact, Davis entered the game with only 72 yards on 10 catches in 17 career games. His one-yard touchdown catch late in the game against the Eagles was the first of his career.

"I'm gonna play hard," Davis said. "They brought me here for a reason -- if something happened to Chris. I'm going to try my best to make it seem like he's not gone. That's hard to do with a great player like that."

As for Cooley, 27, his immediate and long-term future could come into better focus on Tuesday when the team gathers at Redskins Park.

Prior to the 2007 season, Cooley signed a six-year contract extension, though it is not guaranteed after this season. Cooley was guaranteed to receive $14 million and a maximum of $30 million over the life of the contract. He's the league's sixth-highest paid tight end this season, scheduled to earn $620,000 and carrying a cap number of a little more than $3 million. He would earn $2.325 million as a Redskin next season.

"When we made that deal, Dan [Snyder] was the one pushing, pushing to do it," Joe Gibbs, then the team's head coach, said at the time. "He's been a really productive guy for us, and it's great to get this done and get it out of the way. He's somebody who you'd think has earned it, and we think he's going to be here for a long time."

maeser@washpost.com

Staff writers Barry Svrluga and Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.

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