In the wake of last Sunday's 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington Redskins learned yesterday that wide receiver Michael Westbrook has a broken right wrist, is doubtful for Sunday's game and may require surgery that could sideline him longer.
Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer wouldn't speculate on how long Westbrook will be out. Westbrook said he did not know when he broke the bone, known as the scaphoid, at the base of his right thumb. But he was aware of his wrist stiffening in the second quarter of last Sunday's game and asked at the beginning of the third quarter to have his wrist re-taped.
If Westbrook can't start Sunday, when the Redskins host the New York Giants in a critical NFC East game at Redskins Stadium, veteran Irving Fryar will start alongside Albert Connell, according to Coach Norv Turner.
It is the latest setback for Westbrook, 27, whose career has been cut short each season by injuries to his knees, an ankle and, most recently, his neck. After undergoing neck surgery in January, Westbrook returned for his fifth year as a pro with new maturity and focus in the eyes of his teammates and coaches.
"Hopefully, this keeps him out the least amount of time of any of the things he has had," Turner said. "I don't know enough about it right now to say if that's going to be three weeks, or six weeks or two weeks. It's disappointing, and it's one of those things. There's nothing you can do to avoid it. Obviously, you're playing football and there's a risk of injury."
Unable to sleep last Sunday night, Westbrook called Tyer at 3 a.m. and went to Arlington Hospital for X-rays, which indicated a fracture. A CAT scan and MRI exam yesterday afternoon confirmed the diagnosis. The broken bone is not displaced; rather, the bone on either side of the hairline fracture is in its proper place. Still, it may require surgery to stabilize. That's because the scaphoid is typically slow to heal because of the relatively limited blood flow in that part of the wrist.
"It was a rough game," Westbrook said in a brief interview at Redskin Park, before undergoing the tests. "I couldn't tell you which incident it was [that caused the injury]. It was painful."
Typically, fractures to the scaphoid occur when people fall and extend a wrist to break their fall.
Turner said third-year player James Thrash would become the Redskins' third wide receiver. Another wide receiver--likely practice-squad member Derrius Thompson (6 feet 2, 215 pounds), a rookie from Baylor--would be added to the roster.
Westbrook was impressive Sunday, with four receptions for 152 yards and one touchdown. His 40 receptions (for 814 yards and six touchdowns) through nine games are tied with Connell for the team lead and put him on pace for his most productive season since being chosen fourth overall in the 1995 college draft.
The Redskins have used three-receiver sets successfully against the Giants in the past. Turner noted that without Westbrook, such packages would be tougher, but not impossible, to run. The Redskins' offense is ranked second in the NFL, with the passing game fourth overall.
Meantime, Turner turned his attention to the problems that contributed to Sunday's loss: breakdowns by the special teams on kickoff coverage and turnovers.
The Redskins allowed Allen Rossum to return one kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and bring another back 86 yards in the third quarter. Even more costly were the Redskins' six turnovers, which included three interceptions and two fumbles by quarterback Brad Johnson. Entering the game, the Redskins had been among the NFL's best at taking care of the football.
"Every week when you're good at something, you have to go out and reestablish that," Turner said. "Now we have to start over in both areas."
Turner attributed several of the turnovers to "unusual" circumstances, such as Johnson having the ball slip out of his hand. "I don't know that Brad or I could explain that one," Turner said. On Johnson's fumble following a sack, Turner said the quarterback needed to protect the football better. On one of the interceptions, the throw was high and late; on another, Johnson was hit from behind as he threw.
Connell, who allowed a ball to be stripped away after making a catch in the fourth quarter, said he and Johnson shouldered the blame, though the play was recorded as an interception.
"It could have been a better play on my behalf, as well as Brad's," Connell said. "It was just a miscommunication--a little early or I broke it off a little too short. I was trying to wrestle it from him. I fell down, and he got the best of me."
Turner indicated he plans to involve more starters on kickoff coverage--a tactic he had used after safety Leomont Evans missed two games with a concussion.
After bolting to a 4-1 start, the Redskins are 5-4, having lost three of their last four games. Their remaining schedule includes four opponents with winning records: New York Giants, 5-4; Detroit, 6-3; Indianapolis, 7-2; and Miami, 7-2. But the loss to Philadelphia, which had the NFL's 30th-ranked offense, was unexpected--particularly given that rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb was making his first NFL start.
While the Redskins' running game stayed sharp, helped by strong blocking by the offensive line, the passing game sputtered. The offense converted just two of nine third downs (22 percent).
While the defense held Philadelphia to just 38 yards passing, it allowed the Eagles to score the game-winning touchdown with 3 minutes 17 seconds remaining after rushing for 43 yards on four consecutive carries.
While lineup changes on special teams are in store Sunday, there is no indication that owner Daniel M. Snyder intends to fire any member of the coaching staff abruptly, including special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel.
Despondent over their recent string of losses, several players vowed to be more assertive in practice--whether calling teammates on mistakes or hitting harder, in an effort to raise everyone's play.
"We don't want to be touching the quarterback in practice and things like that," return specialist Brian Mitchell said, "but if you work everybody else, it will get better."