These are the dreary days players dread.
Out of the playoff chase. Winless in their last four games. Knowing that the off-season will bring more changes.
So they look for motivation to play out the season. Some understand their jobs may be at stake. Others take a simpler approach.
Ask London Fletcher what gets him revved up about taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and he immediately serves up running back Maurice Jones-Drew. At last, the 5-10 linebacker said, he would be playing against someone shorter.
"No, he didn't say that, did he? That's a low blow," the 5-7 Jones-Drew joked by phone from Jacksonville. "Just tell him, 'Listen, just because we're eye to eye doesn't make him taller because he's older.' "
If Jones-Drew cuts back with the ball the way he just did with his tongue, the Redskins won't be able to tackle him. They'll be too confused.
Despite his lack of height, Jones-Drew isn't small. He's 201 pounds, he's tightly muscled and he chews up yardage in decent-sized chunks. He has rushed for 100 yards or more seven times this season and a six-game streak of such performances ended last Sunday in the team's 34-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Fletcher did not throw disrespect Jones-Drew's way.
"He's an extremely good back," Fletcher said before getting in his dig. "A little short guy, actually shorter than me."
Well, good things come in small packages. Now in his fifth season, Jones-Drew emerged in 2009 from the long shadow cast by Fred Taylor, when he rushed for a career-high 1,391 yards. He's on the cusp of blowing past that now if his health holds up.
He gained only 46 yards on 15 rushes against the Colts, with a balky knee holding him back. At this point of the season, he's not expecting to feel much better, even with a heavy regimen of treatment and little practice, if any.
"It's been tough the last couple of weeks. I'm just trying to get ready to play on Sunday," he said. "That's all you can do, is go out and try to run around and see how it feels and get ready for Sunday."
With 1,324 rushing yards, Jones-Drew ranks second in the NFL. He clearly knows how to get ready for Sunday. But do the Jaguars?
Their 8-6 record was built on the backs of the NFL's dregs. They've beaten one team that has a winning record (the Colts in Week 4) and came up on the short end of the takeaway count in each loss. At -12 in turnovers, the Jaguars (8-6) are the rare team contending for the playoffs while unable to protect the football.
"You've got to win the turnover battle in this league," coach Jack Del Rio said. "You're not going to do it turning it over and losing the battle. So we'll be beating that drum all week."
Not if the drum has a winning record.
QUOTABLE:"I like the way we've responded when our backs have been up against the wall this year. We had two cases earlier in the season where we lost a few and responded well with win streaks. That's what you like to see, a team that can get hot. We know we're capable of that and just have to do it." – New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The Giants, despite their devastating last-play loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Packers in Green Bay. ... "I'm proud of it but I'm not surprised. I never figured anyone would lie down or anything like that." – Buffalo Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams. The Bills have won four of their last six games after opening 0-8. ... "That man is one of the most incredible athletes I've ever seen in my life." – Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, on receiver/returner DeSean Jackson. Jackson's 65-yard punt return to beat the Giants is the only game-winning punt return as time expired in NFL history. He has scored receiving, rushing and punt return touchdowns in each of his first three seasons, joining Dick Todd (Redskins, 1939-41) as the only players ever to accomplish that. ... "Losing close games is hard. I'm of the opinion that it's better than losing by a bunch of points." – Packers coach Mike McCarthy. His 8-6 team has lost four times by three points and twice by four points.
AROUND THE NFL: Kansas City Chiefs running back Thomas Jones has passed 10,000 rushing yards for his career. He's the 25th player in NFL history to do that but the first while playing for at least five teams. ... New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has passed for 4,000 yards in five consecutive seasons. Only the Colts' Peyton Manning has done that (1999-2004, 2006-2010). ... Each of the Dallas Cowboys' last four games has been decided by three points (two wins, two losses). ... Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow will get his first start Sunday against the defensively-deficient Houston Texans. The Texans have allowed 219 points in the second halves of games. Broncos starter Kyle Orton is bothered by a rib injury. ... The New England Patriots didn't appear to be sound in the offensive backfield when the season began and they lost Laurence Maroney to injury but BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the unknown Danny Woodhead have combined for 1,259 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Woodhead also has 31 receptions, one for a score. ... The Oakland Raiders lead the NFL with 128 penalties but the Detroit Lions aren't far behind (125). ... The Colts have failed to score only once this season when they've moved inside the opponent's 20-yard line. They've scored 33 touchdowns and kicked 15 field goals on 49 red-zone trips for an NFL-high 98 percent scoring ratio. The Redskins sit just about in the middle of the pack (15th), with 31 scores (19 touchdowns, 12 field goals) in 36 punctures of the red zone.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.