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Undermanned Redskins can't beat Cowboys, face difficult future

LANDOVER, Md. -- The loss on the scoreboard won’t resonate as much as the losses of personnel. That’s why the Washington Redskins are in trouble moving forward after falling to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Redskins were undermanned entering the game and exited, believe it or not, in worse shape. It’s surprising they were only down a touchdown with less than a minute left in a 33-19 loss to the Cowboys. Given their situation, it should have been worse.

They opened the game with just three offensive line starters available. They lost another starter during the game and the last remaining so-called "healthy" starter -- right tackle Morgan Moses -- was playing with two sprained ankles.

But setting their health aside, the Redskins put themselves in a bad spot by losing. They’re now 0-3 in the NFC East, having lost twice at home. At 3-4, they’re in a major bind when it comes to any talk of a playoff chase.

But it’s even harder to fathom a run given the number of injuries. They’ve also already had their bye week, which they needed after four weeks because they were banged up then too.

It’s uncertain when left tackle Trent Williams (knee) will return -- or how long he can last when he does come back. He knows it will be tough to last all season. At some point, he faces surgery and six to nine months of rehab.

Tight end Jordan Reed left the game with a hamstring injury. He’s their primary target and someone who has a hard time staying healthy. Tight end Niles Paul was hurt. Safety Montae Nicholson left with an injury. Shawn Lauvao, the healthy lineman at the start of the game, went out as well.

Oh, and how long can Moses keep playing on two sprained ankles?

There are others on the list of health questions -- and that’s not what they need entering Sunday’s game at Seattle, followed by games against Minnesota and at New Orleans. Those three teams are a combined 16-6. Thanks to injuries and the schedule, the Redskins are staring at a bad stretch.

In training camp, the Redskins said -- and have said a few times since -- that this is the best roster in Jay Gruden’s tenure as coach. They felt they could do something. Now they are in survival mode.

“We’ve got to recover,” Gruden said. “Tough three games in front of us, but if we take care of business, we can be right back in it.”

Players shook their head afterward about the number of injuries that have occurred.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said center Spencer Long, out with quad/knee issues. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. Injuries happen. All we can do is get healthy as fast as we can.”

They have no choice but to ignore who’s out and focus on who’s in.

“Like anything else, you take it head on,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “When backed into a corner … what are you gonna do? Are you gonna lay down and get beat up or will you come out swinging? It’s your option. I know what I’m gonna do and for the rest of this defense, I know what we’re gonna do. The offense as well. We just have to have everyone on the same page.”

The Redskins defense did enough to keep them in the game, but they did not cause a turnover. If the Redskins are going to win in this stretch, the defense and quarterback Kirk Cousins will have to lead them.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Washington Redskins trotted out an offensive line that included an undrafted free agent taking his first reps at left tackle in a game, a left guard they had cut this summer but re-signed Saturday, a rookie center, a right guard they signed earlier in the week and Moses. They could not keep Cousins upright.

The thing is, had the Redskins taken better care of the ball and executed on special teams, they might have sprung the upset. Instead, leading 13-7 and attempting a 36-yard field goal, the Redskins had it blocked and Orlando Scandrick returned it 86 yards inside the Washington 5-yard line. A possible 16-7 lead turned into a 14-13 deficit shortly thereafter. Later, Chris Thompson’s fumble set up a Dallas field goal, as did a Cousins fumble. There was a last-second pick-six. The Redskins also missed an extra point. All totaled, Redskins turnovers or special teams mishaps led to 20 Cowboys points.

Those issues weren’t because of injuries; all they did was make it harder for an undermanned team to win. The Redskins will have to play near perfect football in the upcoming weeks if they want a chance to play meaningful games in December.