Darrell Green and Jim Lachey, a pair of Pro Bowlers who haven't started together since the second game of the season, both may return to the starting lineup Sunday for the Washington Redskins' stretch drive.
Despite their 20-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints Monday night, the Redskins were upbeat yesterday because of the possibility that both players will be back against the Phoenix Cardinals.
"It's be a big psychological thing," general manager Charley Casserly said.
"To get a Lachey back and Darrell coming back, those are big lifts for you if you can do that," coach Joe Gibbs said.
Green seems almost certain to return because he had no problems playing on the nickel defense on passing downs against the Saints. Green is ready to step in for A.J. Johnson, who replaced Green when he broke his forearm in the second game of the season. Johnson aggravated a knee injury Monday night, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday and will miss a week or two.
Lachey, who suffered a knee injury in the fifth week of the season against the Denver Broncos, will return to practice today and he'll start if he has no problems in the drills.
Lachey is needed because Mark Schlereth will miss this week's game with a knee injury. If Lachey can step back into his left tackle spot, Raleigh McKenzie can move into Schlereth's right guard spot.
"I think we're going to have to see him [Lachey] in practice," Gibbs said. "I don't have a feel for that."
Gibbs, who doesn't have much to celebrate when he turns 52 today, does have a feel for what this game means.
"Right now, I'm looking at this game as the biggest game we've played all year because if we get this game, we're 7-5 and I think we have a strong run at things, getting into the playoffs so I'm focusing everything we've got on this game. A lot of teams are out of it. They're dead and gone. We've got a chance. That's all you can ask for in life. Let's take it. If we do, we're back in the thick of it," Gibbs said.
Actually, the Redskins have never left the thick of things. If the season ended today, they'd be in the playoffs as the final wild-card team with their 6- 5 record.
They'll probably have to win three of their last five to make the playoffs and Green is eager to play full time again and help the late-season push. He said it was frustrating to play only part time against the Saints.
"If I don't start next week, I'm going to have to play special teams or do something. It was no fun watching us lose and just standing around and letting my back tighten up. That was really rough," Green said.
Green said he'll have no trouble playing with a plate in his arm. "There are no heroics," he said. "I'm goofy, but I'm not retarded."
Meanwhile, the Redskins are still evaluating the status of defensive end Eric Williams (pulled groin) and tight end Don Warren (shoulder) and the two players who sat out last week with neck injuries, safety Danny Copeland and guard Joe Jacoby.
With Warren ailing, James Jenkins may be brought back from the injured reserve list to replace him. If Williams' injury is serious, they could sign another linemen.
Despite all the problems, Green said the team isn't down.
"I haven't sensed a 'woe, we're pitiful or woe, we can't win (attitude),' " Green said. "We're very optimistic, which says something about the character of the people here."
Gibbs echoed that theme. "I love the attitude of the guys," he said.
He also plans no shake-up. He ruled out benching quarterback Mark Rypien and defended his play.
"I'm going to kind of put it on all of our guys who've led us to other Super Bowls and led us to great seasons. I'm going to count on them to get it done on this one," he said.
If they're going to do it, they've got to start Sunday.
NOTES: DE Fred Stokes, who was replaced by rookie Shane Collins because of a knee injury, thinks he can return this week. . . . LB Johnny Meads, who was cut Monday when Green was activated, could return if Copeland is out for four weeks, but the Redskins hope his injury isn't that serious.