There's a silver lining in the final stretch of the Washington Redskins' season, and it takes the form of a string of games — five of their final six — against teams that currently have losing records.
But for that late-season stretch to have an appreciable payout, the Redskins must reach Week 12, when they host the foundering New York Giants (1-8) on Thanksgiving night, with a viable chance at an NFC wild-card spot.
With that as a goal, Coach Jay Gruden's Redskins hurt themselves badly with Sunday's 38-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and the red-hot New Orleans Saints on deck. Sunday's loss dropped the Redskins to 4-5, as they squandered an early lead on too many offensive miscues and a lack of intensity on defense.
If it's true that the Redskins didn't match the Vikings' venom at FedEx Field, as cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety D.J. Swearinger suggested in the aftermath, Gruden said Monday that the fault was his.
"For the most part, players have to get ready to play, and I have to do a better job of getting them ready to play," Gruden said. "If they're not ready, then that's on me."
Washington's defense allowed Minnesota, led by backup quarterback Case Keenum, to convert 8 of 12 third downs (67 percent), roll up 406 yards and score 38 points.
"They kind of took the momentum right back from us after we scored," Breeland said in a somber locker room afterward. "They came back and punched us right back in the mouth. It showed it was going to be a game; it wasn't going to be no blowout."
As for the points left unscored on an afternoon in which quarterback Kirk Cousins marched the Redskins up and down the field for 394 total yards and a season-high 30 points, Gruden offered no concrete solution.
Wide receiver Josh Doctson's unprompted stumble in the end zone that spoiled a surefire touchdown was just "a turf monster," Gruden said, that could be chalked up only to bad luck. And an uncharacteristic drop by wide receiver Jamison Crowder on another would-be touchdown was just that: uncharacteristic.
"Just got to get back to the drawing board here [at] 4-5 and try to make sure we continue to compliment on the good they're doing, coach them on the things we need to do better and go from there," Gruden said. "But there were some great plays to be had in that game, some we made and some we unfortunately didn't make."
Meanwhile, the bad news continued Monday for the injury-plagued Redskins. MRI exams confirmed that running back Rob Kelley suffered a high ankle sprain as well as a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and middle linebacker Will Compton, who only recently had reclaimed a starting role after Mason Foster was placed on injured reserve, suffered a Lisfranc foot injury.
Both will miss "a few weeks," Gruden confirmed, and could finish the season on injured reserve. The immediate concern is simply finding another running back to help shoulder the load. The Redskins have just three backs on their roster — Kelley, rookie Samaje Perine and third-down specialist Chris Thompson — after they waived Mack Brown on Oct. 28 (the day before their Week 8 meeting with Dallas) to make room for Arie Kouandjio amid the raft of injuries to the starting offensive line. Brown has since been claimed off waivers by the Vikings.
The stocky, powerfully built Perine (5-foot-11, 236 pounds) will assume a greater role, according to Gruden. The coach said he hopes that with more carries, the rookie will find the physicality he showed en route to becoming Oklahoma's all-time rushing leader (4,122 yards in three seasons) — the major reason the Redskins chose him in the fourth round of the most recent draft.
Perine rushed for a team-high 35 yards Sunday against the Vikings' third-ranked run defense, stepping in after Kelley (four carries, 10 yards) was injured late in the first quarter.
Gruden said the team's front office has a rank-ordered list of four or five running backs — some on rivals' practice squads, others who are free agents — and would be working out candidates.
Ryan Grant, a favorite of Gruden's, joined fellow wide receiver Brian Quick and tight end Niles Paul on the concussion protocol. And DeAngelo Hall suffered a bone bruise in his knee, a potential setback for the team's already thin ranks at safety.
So again, the Redskins will be short on starters when the players return to the practice field Wednesday to prepare for Sunday's game at 7-2 New Orleans, their third consecutive game against an NFC division leader.
The Saints are playing their best football of the season, overcoming an 0-2 start to string together seven consecutive victories, including Sunday's 47-10 rout at Buffalo. While quarterback Drew Brees is a perennial threat, the Saints boast the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack (142.2 yards per game), and their defense is allowing just 18.3 points per game (fifth fewest).
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