In the Redskins' first game of the preseason, third-string quarterback Kevin Hogan was ready to play. The Redskins were ready to play him. He had taken reps at practice and had some plays he was comfortable with. He was more ready for game action than Mark Sanchez was Monday night, where he had to step in and fight to hold onto a playoff spot for the Redskins.
"Well we've had more plays in for the first preseason game with our third or fourth quarterback to be honest with you," head coach Jay Gruden said. "We didn't have many plays. I mean, we tried to get as many ready, we had a wrist band numbered for him, tried to get him comfortable."
Heading into Week 13, the Redskins were scrambling to get Colt McCoy ready at quarterback. It was his first chance to get a full week of practice in as the No. 1 guy, the starter, and he took every first-team rep in practice that week to accelerate the process.
So when McCoy broke his fibula at the end of the first quarter, Washington yet again found itself in a nightmare scenario at quarterback.
Sanchez, an eight-year veteran and journeyman quarterback, was thrown into a one-score game and asked to win on the road in Philadelphia during primetime to keep the Redskins near the top of the division. That went about as well as could be expected.
The Redskins offense has been disfigured by injuries this year. By the time Sanchez took the reigns at quarterback, Washington was playing with fourth and fifth-string guards and an injured left tackle. A number of other players were playing hurt. Their offensive line was one injury away from playing rookie defensive tackle Tim Settle at guard.
"The reality of it is, we lost a lot of our players to injury" Trent Williams said. "We lost the face of our franchise, we lost Pro Bowl players. We really went through the whole gamut. Yeah, you're disappointed, but with all the guys we got on IR and hurt your heart goes out to them, too."
So, on their third quarterback of the season, the Redskins offense rallied around a new signal-caller in the huddle yet again.
Gruden, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and passing game coordinator Kevin O'Connell had to find a way for Sanchez to move the ball, and at first it appeared to work. On the first offensive play of the game, Sanchez took the snap at the Redskins 10-yard line and handed the ball off to Adrian Peterson. One cutback and 90 yards later, the Redskins had their only touchdown, and lead, of the game.
On the next series, Washington began backed-up on their three-yard line after stuffing the Eagles on fourth down during an impressive goal line stand. The first play on that Redskins possession was inches away from a safety, and they played for a punt after that.
"It's tough, man. Mark's probably been here all of what, a week, a week and a half? So, it's definitely new," Williams told reporters after the game. "Nobody can get the system in a week. He came in, gave us the best he had, that's all we could ask for. We still got to play better around him."
And the next drive, a two-minute drill at the end of the half, was exactly the kind of offense Washington needed to run with Sanchez. Using quick throws to receivers who got yards after the catch, including an incredible effort to convert on third down by Jordan Reed, Sanchez got the Redskins within field goal range.
But on his last two throws before the kick, Sanchez threw two prayers toward the end zone that were risky to say the least. The first was a deep target to Josh Doctson down the left sideline, double-covered. Next Gen stats gave the pass a 12.8 percent completion probability. On the next play, Sanchez stepped up into a throw while linebacker Nigel Bradham laid a crushing hit. The pass sailed with a high, rainbow arc into triple coverage and wide receiver Michael Floyd had to play defense to prevent an interception. With the crisis averted, the drive ended in a 47-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal make.
Gruden told reporters after the game that drive showed promise of what the team is hoping to get out of Sanchez.
"Mark's played a lot of football, he's won playoff games, he can function at quarterback, we can get some things done," Gruden said. "You know, and he actually did a pretty good job there for a while, had a nice two-minute drive at the end of the half and made some good plays and then, you know we just obviously sputtered. But, it's tough."
Right, the sputtering.
Sanchez's start went downhill in the second half. He finished the game 13-of-21 passing for 100 yards and an interception. A 4.8 average yards per attempt doesn't win many football games, especially when you throw a costly turnover in there (which could have easily been two if Sanchez hadn't recovered a fumble forced by Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham).
So for the last month Washington will need to win games with their defense and a strong run game, which is how they were winning back in October. Josh Norman's goal line interception and Zach Brown's goal line stuff on fourth down were glimpses of the winning formula, but they weren't consistent.
The Redskins gave up 28 points and 436 yards. Gruden said the defense is healthy enough to put together better performances than Monday's, and that the team is counting on them improving moving forward.
"Yeah, well we have to get a plan ready for Mark moving forward," Gruden said. "He hasn't had many days here so it's been pretty difficult. But, it's our job to get him ready, find a package of plays that he's comfortable with and can handle and we've got to play great football around him which we didn't do tonight. We have to play great defense, we have to play great special teams and then our running game and our offense has to step up around and make it easier for him."