Redskins tackle T.J. Clemmings was injured late in the loss to the Cowboys. Clemmings is the third-string left tackle. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Columnist

T.J. Clemmings limped away. The game was over, the displays of sportsmanship were ending, and the rain — like the Washington Redskins’ injuries — persisted. By then, the drenched home team’s throwback jerseys had turned from burgundy to brown. Or if you really wanted to get carried away with the wounded metaphor, you could say the color resembled dried blood.

Clemmings, Washington’s No. 3 left tackle thrust into an emergency starting role, kept limping as frustrated players trudged off FedEx Field after a 33-19 loss to Dallas on Sunday. He was ahead of a pack by 10 yards, but 30 players passed him en route to the locker room. Clemmings lowered his head and winced through ankle pain. By the time he reached the tunnel, he was the last player visible.

It was difficult to watch, just as it was unsettling to witness another game of rampant attrition. A day that began with too many injuries to give Washington a real chance ended with eight more players exiting the game at least temporarily with a health concern. The injury report included Jordan Reed and Niles Paul, two of the team’s three active tight ends. And Shawn Lauvao, who entered as the offensive line’s only healthy starter, went down, too.

There were more losses, but I have a word limit. Here’s what you need to know: This is a sad version of a team that was starting to get your hopes up. And this sad version has no chance of surviving the next few weeks without a half dozen medical miracles.

“It’s tough,” running back Chris Thompson said, shaking his head. “I don’t really know what to say. It’s tough.”

Fans linger in the stands after the Redskins’ loss to the Cowboys. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Washington is still competitive and crazy enough to believe it has a chance. But even though this team talks about not making excuses, the facts aren’t going anywhere. The injuries aren’t an excuse; they’re a reality that seems impossible to overcome.

How impossible? Consider this game. The Cowboys aren’t very good, and they showed that early, spotting Washington three points after Ezekiel Elliott’s fumble on the first play from scrimmage, falling behind 13-7, going away from their strengths on offense at times, settling for field goals and watching the defense give up too many big gains to a depleted opponent.

On this soggy day, they were also limited by the weather. But despite all Dallas did to assist Washington, the Redskins weren’t going to win. It may have been a one-possession game with less than five minutes remaining, but that was more about the clumsiness of the Cowboys — and all NFL teams this season, for that matter — not some spirited performance from the undermanned squad.

Give Washington credit for playing with resilience. Scrutinize how three turnovers and several special teams gaffes contributed to what could have been an even closer game. Point to quarterback Kirk Cousins’s fumble and late, pick-six interception, or Thompson’s kickoff return fumble, or the game-changing blocked field goal fiasco, as mistakes that can’t happen. But when a team is overmatched and straining to beat unfortunate odds, every mistake is magnified.

“We’re just trying to adjust to the personnel we have available,” Coach Jay Gruden admitted.

The tight ends were going to be a key part of the game plan. They’re always important because that unit is one of Washington’s strengths. But in this game, with the line needing help and the weather playing a factor, Gruden wanted to rely even more on plays using two or three tight ends. But Paul left early with a concussion. Later, Reed was lost to a hamstring injury. By game’s end, Vernon Davis was the only healthy tight end, and right tackle Morgan Moses — who played on two bad ankles — was the only regular offensive line starter.

If the tight ends had been excluded from this trauma, Washington could have won this game. At the very least, it wouldn’t have had to attempt to rally from a two-touchdown deficit.

“It’s huge,” Thompson said of their importance. “It adds extra elements to our offense. Jordan is basically a receiver, so the defense doesn’t know what we’re going to do in our sets when we play multiple tight ends. You put Jordan in motion, and however the defense reacts it’s a tell for Kirk of whether they’re playing man-to-man or zone or whatever. Vernon, he’s 75 years old, but he can still fly for a tight end. He’s such a deep threat. And Niles is a little bit of both of them.

“We can run all of our plays through a two tight end set that we would with three wide receivers. It’s a huge advantage, especially when you’re O-line is hurting and you need more blocking.”

Even with Jamison Crowder playing his best game (nine catches, 123 yards), Washington managed just 285 yards. Cousins threw 39 passes, and the team rushed only 15 times for 49 yards. You’re not going to win in the rain with that kind of imbalance. Then again, with a line full of backups and players signed off the street, Washington wasn’t going to get much out of staying committed to the run. Cousins was sacked four times, but considering that you knew these linemen by number more than name, it could’ve been worse.

It could’ve been worse. That’s a frustrating truth. The team just fell to 0-3 in the NFC East division. At 3-4 and amid a stretch of tough competition, its playoff hopes are dwindling. But, hey, Cousins didn’t get killed, and the game was kind of close. So, whew.

It’s just sad. You can pick out little things that anger you, but in the big picture, this poor, injured team did the best it could. And that’s not a fun conclusion.

“You really can’t make this up,” said Trent Williams, the team’s normal left tackle. “This is something that I’ve never in my life, playing football, never seen this type of injury bug bite a team like it’s bitten us.”

Said Gruden, trying to be hopeful: “We’re 3-4. There’s still a lot of ball left.”

Nine more games? Right now, that sounds like too much opportunity to get hurt.

After Clemmings was injured on Cousins’s touchdown pass to Josh Doctson, the team went to its No. 4 left tackle, which doesn’t even exist. It moved guard Tyler Catalina to protect Cousins’s blind side.

The score was 26-19 with 4:35 left. Washington had a chance. The moment should have inspired belief.

But Clemmings went down and stayed down for a good while. Minutes later, after he grimaced and hobbled to the sideline, Gruden tapped him on the arm, said a few encouraging words and shook his head.

Even when Washington had a chance, it had no chance.