The "next man up" mentality took on a whole new meaning Sunday afternoon for the Washington Redskins' defense.
Seeing player after player exit with injuries, the Redskins had to get creative as they continued to fight on and make key plays against the host San Francisco 49ers.
Yes, Washington left Levi's Stadium with a 17-13 loss, but after forcing three San Francisco turnovers and matching an extremely talented 49ers defense blow-for-blow the entire game, the Redskins' defenders dive into a new week of practices with their heads held high.
"You kind of see how close we are," said rookie outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who had a key forced fumble in the fourth quarter on 49ers running back Frank Gore. "We can't get our spirits down. We got to keep going, keep fighting and eventually when you're that close and you keep working, you keep fighting, it's going to go your way."
One main theme of the game the Redskins' defense had to overcome was the further depletion of an already-depleted secondary.
After second-year cornerback David Amerson was placed on the inactive list prior to the game for violating team rules, the Redskins on Sunday saw injuries to cornerbacks Tracy Porter (shoulder) and E.J Biggers (concussion) that put them in an interesting position.
The answer for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was to, at times, use formations with four safeties while moving other guys around as needed.
"It was actually the most fun I've had in a long time" veteran safety Ryan Clark said. "Just kind of that chess match, putting [Brandon] Meriweather at corner, Phillip Thomas at corner, seeing the way Raheem coached, such a complete effort by our coaching staff and by every guy who had to come in and play."
With a patched-up secondary, the Redskins held the 49ers to 312 total yards – almost 32 yards less than their season average – including just 66 yards rushing. They forced one Colin Kaepernick interception – on a nice, over-the-shoulder grab by rookie Greg Ducre, Porter's replacement at cornerback – and forced three fumbles, recovering two of them.
"They like to control the ball, control the clock and let their defense make plays because they have a really good defense," said Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who earned sack No. 8.5 on the season during Sunday's game, tying a career high. "I thought we did a really nice job against the run and for the most part I thought we did well against the pass, as well."
But, in the end, the 49ers were able to find a way to squeeze out a victory with one final offensive drive. Down 13-10, they converted a key 4th and 1 play with time running down in the fourth quarter, and later, used a four-yard touchdown run from Carlos Hyde to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"I thought we did a lot of good things out there and it's a little disappointing that we played so well for so long, then to give up that touchdown there at the end," Kerrigan said. "It's just a couple plays by us, a couple good plays by them, and it's a tough one to lose because it's a big game against a really good opponent that we were playing in their house."
Clark emphasized after the game that there are no moral victories in the NFL. But he said his defense showed it can put the clamps down on anybody, despite going through loads of adversity.
"They continue to drive. They make big catches. And that's where we need to go as a team. That's the things we need to understand how to do," Clark said. "We lost some guys today and a lot of people went down, so you are proud of the way your team fought."