NEW ORLEANS — Chris Thompson was carted away one final time, past the postgame visitors locker room, across the turf field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and toward the Redskins team bus.
He didn't speak. But no words were needed.
The air cast holding together his fractured right fibula spoke volumes.
"You could see it on his face. He still can't believe it," said rookie running back Samaje Perine. "None of us can. It happened so fast."
Long before Washington squandered a 15-point lead against the Saints and allowed a potential season-defining road win to implode en route to a 34-31 overtime defeat, Jay Gruden's team lost its most valuable offensive weapon to a season-ending injury.
The 5-foot-7, 191-pound Thompson was attempting to block for a scrambling Kirk Cousins in the third quarter when 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins rolled onto Thompson's right leg. Cousins also was hurt on the play and briefly sought attention in the sideline medical tent, but returned shortly thereafter to punish the Saints with a 40-yard strike to a wide-open Ryan Grant. The scoring drive gave Washington a 24-13 lead and some much-needed momentum. But the damage already had been done.
The Redskins' already-depleted roster suffered yet another crushing blow.
Thompson buried his head in a towel as he was wheeled away with the Redskins up 17-13. In that moment, sitting on the back of a cart, there was nothing for him to do but sob. He had emerged as their most trusted offensive asset, leading the team in rushing (294) and receiving yards (495), along with six touchdowns — the latest of which came on a 16-yard, first-quarter pass play from Cousins. Thompson's versatility became even more crucial last week when fellow running back Rob Kelley was placed on injured reserve. And now, Thompson's career year has come to an end. Gruden announced after the game that Thompson will undergo surgery.
Perine's voice was barely above a whisper, his eyes glassy and red, as he recounted his postgame conversation with Thompson.
"I just said, 'I prayed for you to get back and I love you, bro.' Because he really is like my brother," the rookie, who rushed for 117 yards and his first NFL touchdown, said solemnly. "The short time that I've been here, we've got a really strong bond — me, Rob and CT. And having those two guys go down, it's hard to see. Especially with the type of season that CT was having. It's tough."
After Kelley went down, the Redskins (4-6) were left with Thompson, Perine and Byron Marshall, whom they hastily signed off the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad last week. Now, the organization must reconfigure its rushing attack once more before playing Thursday night against the New York Giants — and overcome yet another major injury in a season that has been filled with them.
The emotional toll of Sunday's loss to the Saints (8-2) was evident in the stunned silence that permeated the Redskins' locker room and the pained expressions on players' faces. But the loss of Thompson was equally painful — especially for safety D.J. Swearinger, who promised his injured teammate that they'd pull off the upset for him.
"And I didn't keep my word," said a frustrated Swearinger. "If anything, that bothers me the most. We had one of our best guys go down, and we didn't get the 'W' for him. That's tough. I got my prayers for CT. We're riding for CT, and that's what we're going to continue to do."
The injury was the latest in a string of setbacks for Thompson, who fractured his back as a junior at Florida State and then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee the following season. The fifth-round pick also tore the labrum in his left shoulder during his rookie season (2013) and was plagued by shoulder pain until 2015. But he gained Gruden's trust last season and solidified his place within his offense.
Now, the coach must figure out how to salvage their rushing attack — and their disappointing season — without Thompson. "He's one of the most important players on offense," a crestfallen Gruden said. "We just, obviously, have to make do with guys that we have."
And, once again, Thompson must turn his attention to rehabbing.
"This hurts," the injured running back tweeted after the game. "Not being able to go out and perform for my God who blessed me with this ability, my brothers, coaches, and the fans. But if you know me you know I'm gonna work my butt off to be out there for y'all next season even better than I was before. Thanks for the support."
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