At halftime of the worst game in a crumbling Washington Redskins season, a crowd formed around FedEx Field’s west gate Sunday afternoon.
Their fans wanted to get out.
Who could blame them? By then the deficit was 34 points in what would become a 40-16 defeat to the New York Giants — a team Washington had beaten on the road just weeks earlier. But that was before quarterback Alex Smith’s leg was broken Nov. 18, before backup quarterback Colt McCoy’s leg was broken last Monday night and before emergency backup Mark Sanchez started Sunday and fell on his face as well as his back and even his side as the Giants’ defense swarmed through a broken Redskins offensive line.
So as what was announced as a crowd of 57,437 dwindled to something resembling half that number and Washington stumbled to its fourth loss in a row and fifth in six games, a reality seemed clear. At 6-7, the Redskins’ hopes of making the playoffs are slim at best. With two quarterbacks who weren’t in the NFL three weeks ago and an offensive line containing men who spent most of the fall sitting at home — along with star tight end Jordan Reed hobbling off early Sunday with a foot sprain — Washington is in jeopardy of losing all of its final three games.
And later Coach Jay Gruden bristled — for the first time this year — in his postgame news conference when someone asked what “the disconnect” was between what Gruden called a good week of practice and a nightmare of a game.
“Yeah, there’s a disconnect. We have a quarterback who just got here, and we have two offensive guards who got named starters yesterday, so there’s a disconnect there,” Gruden snarled. “There’s three of our starting 11 [offensive] guys that just got here a little bit ago. So there’s a disconnect there. We also lost Jordan Reed in the first quarter. There’s a major disconnect there. There’s four pretty good players or four key players that are not out there. . . .
“So two starting guards and a starting quarterback, I’d say there’s a disconnect there.”
When asked whether he thought his job is safe, the longest-tenured coach in owner Daniel Snyder’s two decades of ownership gave a half smile.
“My job is in jeopardy every week,” Gruden said. “So I just have to go out and do the best I can to get these guys ready to go. We’ll continue to do that.”
Gruden said he did not plan to make any changes to his coaching staff despite a defense that has allowed at least 400 yards in five of the past six games. A team spokesman said there were no planned announcements of firings.
But Snyder has a history of burning through coaches and executives, and the Redskins have gone into a complete collapse in recent weeks. While some of this can be attributed to the loss of Smith, who had been a strong locker room leader as well as a careful game manager, the team has been falling. Defensive struggles combined with an offense that has never produced explosive plays the way coaches had hoped made the foundation seem shaky even before Smith (and then McCoy) went down.
On Sunday, Sanchez, who had not started since the 2016 season, looked lost as the Giants’ defenders applied pressure through Washington’s patchwork offensive line. He completed only 6 of 14 passes for 38 yards, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked five times before Gruden realized he needed to use a quarterback who could better scramble from a pass rush.
So in the third quarter, with the Redskins down 40-0, he called for Josh Johnson, a man who had not thrown an NFL pass since 2011. Johnson, signed Tuesday in case something happened to Sanchez, turned out to be the Redskins’ one glimmer of hope.
He threw for 195 yards in a quarter and a half and led Washington on two touchdown drives, both of which were capped with two-point conversions. One of those scores came on a 79-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jamison Crowder, the team’s longest pass play of the season.
Gruden said Johnson will start next week’s desperation game at Jacksonville. But given that Johnson is the team’s fourth quarterback in six weeks and prepared for his latest chance at the NFL by playing in a charity basketball tournament last weekend (later complaining of sore legs), it’s hard to know what hope remains.
No one could explain what has happened to the defense. On Sunday, it gave up 402 yards to a Giants team that didn’t have injured star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. It also allowed 170 rushing yards to rookie running back Saquon Barkley — 132 more than Barkley got against the Redskins in October.
Safety D.J. Swearinger Sr., a frequent critic of Washington’s defensive efforts, said the difference between being a good defense and a bad defense is “chemistry.” Then he added: “I’m not going to comment beyond that.”
Asking him to explain more seemed pointless. Too much has gone wrong in the past six weeks to blame one part of the team.
As the fans who departed at halftime seemed to suggest, there wasn’t much left in the mostly empty stadium they left behind to say that hope is coming anytime soon.
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Game summary: Giants 40, Redskins 16