Three days after he made one of the mistakes that sealed a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants, backup cornerback Johnny Thomas was placed on injured reserve to allow a banged-up left knee to heal.

The timing is extremely curious, especially since Thomas was willing to attempt to play. The Washington Redskins yesterday admitted that the move might look like punishment for making a big mistake in a big game, but they insisted the matters were unrelated.

"That had nothing to do with it," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Guys around here do not get put down for making mistakes. If we did that, coaches would be down too."

The Redskins signed free-agent cornerback Sidney Johnson to replace Thomas, who is required to spend four weeks on injured reserve.

Gibbs had contemplated at least one other move, but yesterday said there may be nothing else this week, thus leaving defensive tackle Jumpy Geathers and tight end Terry Orr in limbo a while longer.

Earlier this week, the Redskins had hoped to have both of them on the 47-man roster by Sunday. Orr was cut last weekend to make room for quarterback Jeff Rutledge, and Gibbs said he wanted him back as quickly as possible.

But he phoned Orr yesterday morning to say circumstances forced him to sign a cornerback. Thomas appeared questionable for Sunday, and right-side starter Martin Mayhew missed most of yesterday's practice with a sore shoulder.

"I was going to try and get {Orr} back, but there were some things we had to do," Gibbs said. "I felt like we had to have a cornerback."

Meanwhile, wide receiver Joe Howard's injured left knee may not be as bad as originally feared. He missed yesterday's practice, but trainer Bubba Tyer predicted he'd be ready to play Sunday.

There also doesn't appear to be a spot for Geathers, who is eligible to return after spending the required six weeks on the "physically unable to perform" list.

"We'd love to have him right now," Gibbs said. "It's just a matter of when we can and when we think it's the best time. Originally, I thought a couple of guys might be nicked a little bit today. Jumpy took a little work, but all the rest of them looked okay."

Gibbs already has seven healthy defensive linemen on the 47-man roster, and said that even if Geathers is added as an eighth "it would be only for one week. We'd have to get back to seven the next week."

Thomas was blocking on the punt-return team when Sean Landeta's punt bounced off his right leg with 3:47 left and New York leading, 21-20. After return man Walter Stanley let the punt bounce inside the 20, Thomas was supposed to make sure he got away from the ball, and he admitted making a mistake.

The play wasn't the final blow, but it was an important one. Matt Bahr's 19-yard field goal with 3:35 remaining increased the lead to 24-20 and meant the Redskins had to score a touchdown -- instead of a field goal -- against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense.