ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — From healthy, first-place surprise to battered and struggling, the Washington Redskins had their fortunes take another dive Monday when running back Tim Hightower was declared out for the season with a torn knee ligament and receiver Santana Moss underwent hand surgery that is expected to sideline him for 5-7 weeks.
That makes five starters lost to significant injuries over the last two weeks, coinciding with a two-game losing streak and a quarterback switch.
The Redskins (3-3), sitting so pretty after winning three of their first four, are on their heels. Little seems to be going right, and some of the misfortune is truly out of the norm. London Fletcher — who has never missed a game in his 14-year NFL career — has a hamstring injury that might finally get him off the field, and demoted quarterback Rex Grossman is in the hospital with pneumonia.
"We've got a lot of young players," coach Mike Shanahan said. "We're going to get a chance to see how much talent they do (have), and how quickly they can improve.
"And, hopefully, it's quick."
Hightower is the team's leading rusher. Moss is the top wideout. With the injury-induced shuffling along the offensive line, there are now only four offensive starters — tight end Fred Davis, receiver Jabar Gaffney, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Jammal Brown — still manning their same positions from the beginning of the season.
"I felt like coming into the season we had a chance to be a good football team; I still feel like that," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "We're a little banged up, though, there's no doubt about that. ... (But) this is a different group. This isn't a group that's going to hang their heads and feel sorry for themselves. We're going to bounce back."
Hightower and Moss were hurt in Sunday's 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Hightower's left knee buckled when he tried to make a cut during a 4-yard carry in the third quarter, ending his season with 321 yards on 84 carries.
Ryan Torain and rookie fourth-round draft pick Roy Helu will try to take up the slack, although neither has Hightower's locker room leadership or ability to pick up a blitz. Torain had a 135-yard game in relief three weeks ago, but since then he has 12 carries for 17 yards. Helu's last 16 attempts have netted only 55 yards.
Hightower gave an emotional speech to his teammates after the game, encouraging them to soldier on.
"It's always tough to lose a player like that," Shanahan said, "who leads both on and off the football field."
Moss has 25 catches for 301 yards, second in receptions on the team behind tight end Davis. Moss broke his left hand in the first half against Carolina and had three pins inserted into the area around his index finger on Monday.
That leaves Gaffney, who has a team-high 361 yards, and either Anthony Armstrong or fifth-round rookie Niles Paul as the starting tandem for this week's game against the Buffalo Bills (4-2) at Toronto.
Fletcher, the heart and soul of the defense, left the Panthers loss early. His streak of 214 straight games might be in danger.
"I don't think it's that serious," Shanahan said. "But we'll find out more on Wednesday."
As if that weren't enough, Grossman spent Sunday's game in the locker room fighting pneumonia and a fever. Shanahan said Grossman would have come out to play if needed, but the coach also had receiver Terrence Austin taking snaps as an emergency quarterback during pregame warmups. Grossman is now being treated in a hospital for at least the next 48 hours.
Among those already on the sideline: Tight end Chris Cooley, left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, all hurt in the previous week's loss to Philadelphia. Lichtensteiger is out for the season with torn knee ligaments, Cooley is sidelined indefinitely with a broken finger and is having his balky knee re-examined, and Williams is week-to-week with a sprained ankle.
The injury news overshadowed mixed results from John Beck, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 279 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble in his first start in four years.
Those numbers aren't bad, especially given the injuries, but Beck stood out in a different way Monday. It's been years since Redskins quarterbacks held regular day-after-game chats with reporters, but Beck made an appearance in the locker room and wrapped it up making a point to defend rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson, making his NFL debut, took a wrong turn on the first pass intended for him, leading to the only interception thrown by Beck.
"Hey, listen, the play with Hankerson, it's on me," Beck said. "I'm the guy that has got the ball in my hand, and I'm the guy that makes the decision where that ball goes, and we're very excited to have Hankerson be a part of this football team. He's going to be a great asset to this football team. Nothing goes on Hankerson. It all goes on me. You got that?"
Notes: Hall said he was "disappointed" that he wasn't the primary cover man on Steve Smith, who had 143 yards receiving. Shanahan said CB Josh Wilson got the bulk of the duty on Smith because Wilson had been playing well. ... S Kareem Moore, on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury, will return to practice this week.