The decision was made quickly out of necessity. Options are limited among free agents and available practice squad players, and Washington is on a short week ahead of Sunday’s game against the Raiders in Las Vegas. After that, Washington begins a closing five-game stretch against NFC East opponents that will determine its playoff chances.
Those postseason hopes have been renewed during a three-game winning streak that has coincided with signs of improvement across the roster and brought the team’s record to 5-6 — but Washington continues to be tested by injuries.
In addition to Slye, who was placed on injured reserve, Washington had two other players leave Monday’s game early. Running back J.D. McKissic was carted off in the fourth quarter with a neck injury and was expected to undergo further evaluation Tuesday morning. But there was optimism that the injury wasn’t as serious as it appeared. McKissic was said to be walking around in the locker room after the game, and on Tuesday he tweeted that he’s “good.”
Wes Schweitzer, a guard who was filling in at center, suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and was replaced by Keith Ismael. Schweitzer was Washington’s third starting center this season, after Chase Roullier (fractured fibula) and Tyler Larsen (medial collateral ligament sprain) went down. The team also is without rookie right tackle Sam Cosmi (hip), who was placed on injured reserve Monday.
Nearly every position on Washington’s roster has felt the pain this season. It is missing starting defensive ends Chase Young (torn ACL) and Montez Sweat (fractured jaw), has long been without linebacker Jon Bostic (pectoral muscle) and at various points has had to rotate defensive backs to account for injuries — including recently at cornerback, where Benjamin St-Juste’s absence has given way to more time for Danny Johnson.
“I think we’ve done a good job in personnel in terms of having the depth we need. It started last year,” Rivera said after the game Monday. “… We brought in good depth on the offensive [and] defensive lines. That’s really what it’s about — being able to have guys that are ready to play and guys that have the ability to play more than one position and get them back in. That’s huge, and that’s been big for us.”
But after years of certainty, kicker has become one of the most unstable positions on Washington’s roster.
Washington released Dustin Hopkins in late October, after more than six seasons with the team, following a string of misses and signed Chris Blewitt with the hope his consistency in workouts would translate to game day. But Blewitt hadn’t played since his college days at Pittsburgh in 2016, and his inexperience showed: In two games, three of his five field goal attempts were blocked. He was cut after the Week 8 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Slye arrived Nov. 9 and provided stability. He was 6 for 6 on field goals and 5 for 6 on extra-point attempts over the past three weeks, but that lone blemish led to his injury. Slye pulled his left hamstring — his plant leg — late in the second quarter when he attempted to chase down Seahawks defensive lineman Rasheem Green, who blocked an extra-point attempt, scooped up the ball and ran it back for a two-point conversion. Slye handled the subsequent kickoff but then did not return; Washington instead relied on punter Tress Way for kickoffs and opted for two-point and fourth-down attempts instead of kicking.
The earliest Slye would be able to return is Week 16 — in time for Washington’s second meeting with the Dallas Cowboys. But that will depend on his recovery.
In the meantime, Washington moves on to its fourth kicker of the season.
Johnson is a first-year player who signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in May. After gaining notice at Gonzaga in Washington, Johnson played four years at Virginia Tech and made 54 of 71 field goal tries (76.1 percent) and all 131 extra-point attempts in his career.
“The biggest thing we want to make sure, obviously, is we get the same type of kicker — a guy who’s going to get the ball elevated quickly and a guy that can make kicks from about 52 yards and in,” Rivera said.
Johnson was with the Bears throughout the offseason and was added to the practice squad in September. The New Orleans Saints signed him to their active roster a month later, and he played four games, going 8 for 8 on field goals (52 yards was his longest) but converting just 5 of 8 extra-point attempts — including two misses in a two-point loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 10. He was cut days later and signed back to Chicago’s practice squad.
He now returns home to try fill the latest void on Washington’s roster.