JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Cover your eyes, folks. This one could be ugly, even by late-season NFL standards.
When the Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars take the field Sunday, it might look a little like a preseason game. The dreaded fourth preseason game, too.
Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson, who was getting ready to play in the startup Alliance of American Football league just a couple weeks ago, will make his first start since 2011. The Jaguars (4-9) will counter with Cody Kessler, who has managed one touchdown in 22 drives — a TD pass while trailing 30-2 at Tennessee — since taking over for benched starter Blake Bortles two weeks ago.
And it’s far from just QB woes for these struggling offenses.
The Redskins (6-7), who have lost four straight since starting quarterback Alex Smith broke his right leg against Houston, also could be without guard Tony Bergstrom (knee/ankle) and their top two receivers. Tight end Jordan Reed (ankle/foot) and Josh Doctson (concussion) missed consecutive practices. Washington already is down both starting guards, Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao.
“There are a lot of things when talking about losing a football game,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “If we had it narrowed down to one thing, we’d fix it and be OK. Sometimes it’s defense, sometimes it’s offense, sometimes its special teams, sometimes it’s coaching. It’s a combination.
“It’s a matter of all of us having to step up in some key players’ absence and playing better. We haven’t done that. We haven’t taken it to the next level of coaching, the next level of playing, the level you have to take it to when you have some injuries and some voids in your offense or defense or what have you.”
The Jaguars, who have dropped seven of eight since a 3-1 start, likely will be without four starters along the offensive line. Left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder are on injured reserve, and right tackle Jermey Parnell is unlikely to play with a knee injury.
Equally troubling for coach Doug Marrone, whose future with the franchise is unclear, is finding motivation for his players down the stretch in a lost season.
“It is obviously a tough situation and you would hope that the love for the game takes over more than anything else,” Marrone said. “You sit there and you say it is your job, it is what you have to do. But there has to be something greater than that.
“You have to go out there and play this game like when you were a little kid where no one was watching and no one was around and you were just as competitive and having fun. Those are the things you go through when you have a season like we have, which has been disappointing.”
For Washington’s playoff hopes, this is pretty close to a must-win game. And some of it will fall on Johnson, who is 0-5 as a starter and has been with 12 NFL teams. He is the team’s fourth starting quarterback in the last five weeks.
“Honestly, to me, that’s the beauty of sports,” Johnson said. “As a pro athlete, as a kid, you want to be out there. I’ve been a backup for so long I think you understand that having this opportunity is more special than the challenges that are ahead.”
Here are some other things to know about the Redskins and Jaguars:
It’s Jacksonville’s home finale and likely the last home game for several benched starters , including Bortles, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Barry Church. All three are under contract for 2019, but realize their salaries no longer match their reduced roles.
IN THE HUNT
Losses by Minnesota, Philadelphia and other NFC teams have kept the Redskins on the edge of the postseason picture. There are few signs from the past month that Washington is a playoff team, but players insist they believe.
“I feel like everyone in this locker room is optimistic,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “They have good faith and they want to win. If they didn’t want to win, they wouldn’t be here. I think they probably would’ve hung it up, went home, packed their bags. I don’t feel like we have any losers on this team.”
BETTER AT HOME
Jacksonville has allowed 15.0 points a game at home, the lowest average in the league this season. The Jaguars have given up three touchdowns — all to Pittsburgh — in their last two games at TIAA Bank Field.
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