The total collapse occurred late in the fourth quarter Sunday at FedEx Field. Just call it a textbook awful finish by a bad football team — and the Washington Redskins still are one of the NFL’s worst.

Recently, that fact has been easier to forget. Over the past few weeks, it seemed some things had been trending upward. But with their embarrassing closing act in a 34-19 loss to the New York Jets, the Redskins reminded us that they are nowhere close to becoming good again.

In the most jarring and sobering three-minute stretch of the season, the Redskins gave up 21 points to close the game as the Jets overcame a three-point deficit.

“It was quick,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “The tide turned quickly. . . . We’re definitely not there yet.”

Having the chance to secure a victory, the Redskins’ defense disappeared.

“You don’t expect that,” inside linebacker London Fletcher said. “We didn’t.”

Washington’s offense, which was ineffective after an efficient opening drive, bumbled its way to the finish behind quarterback Rex Grossman, who reverted to “Bad Rex.” Actually, he was “Very Bad Rex,” misfiring often and committing another two turnovers while producing a 47.5 passer rating.

“It’s frustrating,” Grossman said. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”

Grossman could have offered more, though none of it would have been positive, which is the toughest part for the Redskins.

After their last two games, the Redskins believed they were making strides. The Redskins were optimistic about their situation, albeit as much as a team that had lost six consecutive games could be encouraged about anything.

Washington’s players took pride in a late turnaround they expected to continue until the playoffs started and their season ended, “and that’s why a game like this is so hard, the way we finished,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “You want to just keep making progress, playing hard and showing that you’re getting better. But you have to go out there and do it.”

Before eventually losing in overtime, the Redskins were sharp at times against the NFC East division-leading Dallas Cowboys. They rallied for a road victory against the Seattle Seahawks last week.

Against the Jets, Washington was a mess again. And it wasn’t only the players.

Fans grumbled about the team’s offensive play-calling. It seemed as if Coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who are both involved in directing the offense, forgot about running back Roy Helu at times. Helu had a breakout performance against the Seahawks and kept rolling against the Jets.

A catalyst for Washington’s game-opening drive, Helu gained 32 yards on five carries, including the last two for a touchdown. He had 63 yards on 11 rushes (a 5.7-yard average) in the first half and finished with at least 100 yards for the second time in as many weeks.

As strong as Helu is, though, and as hard as he runs, he should have had more opportunities. Helu did lose a fumble, but so what?

The Redskins need to prepare him for a full-time starting role at the outset in 2012. Forget about his mistakes. Build for the future with him now.

Whether it’s Mike or Kyle calling plays, there are too many moments when the Redskins turn away from the running game in favor of putting more on Grossman’s shoulders.

History has proven that’s a mistake.

Relying so heavily on Grossman is especially risky and ridiculous now that it appears the talented rookie runner is coming fast.

The Shanahans should think Helu first, second and third. Really, for the remainder of the season, the passing game should be the Shanahans’ last resort. They should view it as their backup plan if Helu isn’t getting it done.

Unfortunately for Mike and Kyle, they may have no choice while playing the last four games without two of Washington’s most important players on offense.

The NFL is expected to suspend tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams for the remainder of the season for violating its substance-abuse policy. Davis and Williams failed several tests for use of recreational drugs, believed to be marijuana.

Supposedly, these are cornerstone guys for the team Shanahan is attempting to build. Davis is the team’s top playmaker on offense and Shanahan relies on Williams — Washington’s first draft pick after Shanahan took control of the franchise — to anchor the offensive line. It’s hard to build around guys who are incredibly stupid, which could be among the reasons the Redskins have been stuck in reverse so long.

Without Davis and Williams for the final quarter of the season, things figure to be much harder for Grossman, who needs a nearly perfect environment — or as close to it as possible — to be a serviceable starting quarterback in this league.

Sure, Grossman is capable of the occasional big play. In fairness to him, he connected on an impressive deep pass to Anthony Armstrong to help the Redskins rally against Seattle.

As always, though, Grossman kills his teams with errant throws and turnovers. He completed only 19 of 46 passes against the Jets, had one pass intercepted and lost a fumble. On the season, he has 15 interceptions and three lost fumbles.

That’s 18 turnovers in only nine starts for Grossman. Long term, you just can’t roll with a guy like that.

Washington needs a new quarterback. It needs smarter players who truly are leaders. The Redskins aren’t close. Just watch them long enough and they’ll remind you.