- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2011

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.”

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