Injuries, virus absences taking their toll for Washington

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Ron Rivera has wondered when a run of injuries and other absences would catch up to Washington.

He got his answer in a 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Already without reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, his team was missing the next three pass rushers on the depth chart for coronavirus-related reasons, running back J.D. McKissic because of a concussion, and tight end Logan Thomas with a knee injury.

Then Washington lost starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a left knee injury, No. 1 wide receiver Terry McLaurin to a concussion and center Tyler Larsen to a left leg injury. Even though Heinicke expects to play Sunday at the Philadelphia Eagles, attrition is taking its toll.

In a handful of days leading up to the showdown with the Cowboys, Washington lost edge rushers Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill and cornerback Darryl Roberts when all four landed on the NFL’s COVID-19/reserve list. The four defensive ends who played – Shaka Toney, Bunmi Rotimi, Daniel Wise and William Bradley-King – entered with a combined 129 snaps of pro experience.

”We had to play younger guys,” Rivera said. ”That’s not an excuse. Those guys are professionals. Other guys got their opportunities. They had their moments. They’re young guys. They made some mistakes. But (it) gave them some experience and an opportunity to play football.”

Veteran safety Landon Collins said the team had gotten used to a ”next man up” mentality. He isn’t worried about the injuries piling up.

”We just look at the next person like, `We need you,’ and that it is done in practice when we are rotating everybody and making sure that everyone is in tune,” Collins said. ”You never know when it’s your opportunity to play.”

A few other players might get an opportunity at Philadelphia. But don’t expect Kyle Allen to get the nod over Heinicke for performance reasons.

Heinicke was 11 of 25 for 122 yards with a 43-yard touchdown pass, an interception and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Still, Rivera said, ”If he’s healthy, he’s our starter.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The defense forced two Dallas turnovers and allowed the Cowboys just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone before garbage time. Washington was also a different team in the second half after getting read the riot act by Rivera.

”He wanted to see what we were going to do,” linebacker Cole Holcomb said. ”I thought we came out and fought our butts off.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

One constant during Washington’s winning streak was a steady dose of the running game: controlling the clock, taking pressure off Heinicke, setting up the play-action pass and giving the defense a breather. Falling behind against Dallas kept that from happening, and Washington ran the ball only 23 times.

”They seemed to be winning at the point of attack,” Rivera said of the Cowboys.

STOCK UP

Holcomb got his second interception of the season, picking off Dak Prescott and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown. With veteran Jon Bostic out and rookie Jamin Davis still adjusting, Holcomb is a linchpin of the defense and needs to be solid for the unit to succeed.

STOCK DOWN

Running back Antonio Gibson fumbled for the sixth time this season, his first since the fumble at Carolina on Nov. 21 that led to his benching. Rivera benched Gibson again in the loss to Dallas but said the coaching staff would continue working with the second-year pro.

”It happens,” Gibson said. ”It can happen, but you’ve just got to shake it off and keep going.”

INJURED

With Larsen expected to be out, fourth-string center Keith Ismael returns to the starting role. Washington could get McKissic back after missing the past two games.

KEY NUMBER

4 – consecutive seasons Washington has had three or more quarterbacks throw a pass. This year it’s Heinicke, Allen and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

NEXT STEPS

Make sure Heinicke can go at Philadelphia and prepare for a rested opponent coming off its bye week.

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