Jordan Reed's shoulder, not fists, remain biggest issue for Redskins

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins survived minus tight end Jordan Reed at times during the season. It was obvious they could have used more from him Monday night, but it was just as obvious Reed was still in a lot of pain.

And it’s a bad night when the only highlight from him involves a punch and not a catch (only one for six yards). Reed, of course, was ejected in the fourth quarter of Washington's 26-15 loss to Carolina after he punched safety Kurt Coleman. Reed appeared frustrated that Coleman wouldn’t let go of his right arm (his injured shoulder was the left one) and after words were exchanged, Reed landed a punch.

It was an unfortunate way to sum up his night -- and it clearly begs for him to be smarter in such situations. There were points in the game where Reed took hard hits to the shoulder and perhaps he’d had enough when the incident with Coleman occurred. Reed was gone before the media entered the locker room and was therefore unavailable to talk.

“He’s a very talented player, one of the best in this league and one of the best tight ends I’ve played with,” Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson said. “He just made a mental mistake in the heat of the moment. I’ve been in situations like that.”

But the punch aside, the bigger issue for Washington is what can it get from Reed over the final two games? He’s a big part of the offense

and even though the Redskins have survived in games without him, they’re much better with him.

And the offense will face two excellent defenses in the final two games. Chicago’s record is terrible (3-11) but the Bears’ defense has

played well (ninth in total yards; 16th in points). The New York Giants’ defense is playing at a high level now, too (third in points per game and a combined 13 points allowed the past two weeks).

The Redskins are fighting for their playoff lives; to do so without Reed makes it tougher. After the game, Redskins coach Jay Gruden only said they’ll have to look at Reed’s shoulder again. But it was obvious in the game that he was struggling with his left shoulder and that it bothered him to be hit on that side. If that’s the case, it’s tough to put him on the field.

“For a few weeks this year, we haven’t had him, and our offense has still been fairly productive,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “So it’s no excuse not having him.”

No, it’s not. In two full games without him (the first Eagles game and against Detroit), the Redskins gained 906 yards total, including 546 through the air. He only played 10 snaps vs. Philadelphia last week, and they averaged 8.05 yards per play when he wasn’t in the game (thanks in part to an 80-yard Jackson touchdown catch). For the season, they’ve averaged 6.79 yards when Reed wasn’t in the game (compared to 6.39 with him). His absence is no excuse; but they also don’t want to lose one of the best at his position.

The Redskins still have enough talent to produce with Jackson and fellow receivers Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder plus tight end Vernon Davis. They have a quarterback expecting a huge check in the offseason; one way to prove your worth is to produce in adverse situations. Cousins completed 32-of-47 passes for 315 yards and an interception.

Reed’s injury did not cause them to lose Monday. It simply made it harder to win – and will do so over the next two weeks. Reed’s at the point where either he plays and fights through it, without letting it impact his game. Or he sits. Players will say: If you’re on the field, you’re healthy enough to play. If it impacts you, then sit. Early in his career, Reed would not play through injuries; he's trying to now. It's noble. It's just not working.

Two weeks ago in practice, the shoulder clearly bothered Reed; he'd appear to wince even just trying to catch the ball at times. Last week, there was an occasional shaking of the shoulder as if it bothered him. But, for the most part, he looked better. Coaches were cautiously optimistic for him. Reed said the pain was much better. But it's a grade 3 separation of the AC joint and that means pain is always a jarring shot away. The question always becomes: How much can a player handle?

“We definitely missed him out there; we definitely needed him,” Jackson said. “It’s hard. He’s not physically able to do what he’s capable of doing because he’s not 100 percent healthy. Hopefully he’ll figure it out. That injury is a hard injury. I had a shoulder injury and am playing through it; I understand what he’s going through.”

The Redskins could use a healthier Reed. They just hope there's enough time for that to happen.