- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2014

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The injuries piled up, one by one, until the Washington Redskins’ secondary barely had anybody left to put out there.

In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Redskins had more cornerbacks on the sidelines or in the locker room than they had available to play. Undrafted rookie Greg Ducre, the team’s No. 5 corner, was suddenly starting. Backup safeties Trenton Robinson and Phillip Thomas were playing cornerback.

The next man up, Ryan Clark later told a group of reporters, was wide receiver Santana Moss.

“We had guys in positions I didn’t know they played,” coach Jay Gruden said.

For much of the game, the patchwork group of defensive backs held its own against Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco’s offense. They intercepted the 49ers quarterback once and accounted for one of the defense’s two forced fumbles. Ultimately, however, the weakened secondary could only buoy the team for so long in a 17-13 loss.

“It’s actually the most fun I’ve had in a long time, just kind of that chess match,” Clark said. “Just such a complete effort by our coaching staff and by every guy who had to come in and play. I think when you give an effort like that, you’d like to win the game so those guys can get the credit for the way they played.”

SEE ALSO: Robert Griffin III can’t make decisive plays as Redskins fall at San Francisco

From the moment DeAngelo Hall limped off the field in Philadelphia two months ago, the secondary had operated at partial strength, starting corners who have at times looked too young and safeties who have often looked too old.

The already depleted unit continued to lose pieces Sunday, even hours before the game began. Starting cornerback David Amerson was inactive because of a violation of team rules. E.J. Biggers left the game with a concussion. Tracy Porter “banged up” his right shoulder, which Gruden classified as an AC joint separation. X-rays on the shoulder were negative, Porter said, and he is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

In the end, the Redskins had only two active cornerbacks: Ducre and fellow rookie Bashaud Breeland.

“You have to tip your cap to them,” Ryan Kerrigan said. “That was not an easy situation. It seemed like guys were going down left and right in the secondary, and for the safeties to fill in like that was really remarkable.”

Kaepernick completed 20 of his 29 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown, which came relatively easily on San Francisco’s first offensive drive. The 49ers needed only five plays to march 59 yards, capping off the drive with a 30-yard pass to veteran Anquan Boldin behind safety Brandon Meriweather.

From there, however, the big plays were few and far between. Boldin finished with nine receptions for 137 yards, but the rest of San Francisco’s receiving corps finished with 11 combined catches for 119 yards.

SEE ALSO: Redskins notes: Alfred Morris eclipses 100-yard mark in rushing for first time this season

“I had no doubt about the guys that came in,” Porter said. “Every team says they have a next-man-up mentality, but the guys that we have in our room, we have the utmost confidence in.”

On Sunday, the situation devolved from “next man up” to “last man up.” Ducre, an undrafted rookie out of Washington who had yet to play a defensive snap in the NFL, entered the game after Porter’s injury in the third quarter. He went from the bench to lining up opposite Michael Crabtree.

Ducre had patiently waited all year for an opportunity, and he seized it when it arrived. On one of his first plays from scrimmage, he leaped over Boldin on a deep route and snatched the ball out of the air. It was only the Redskins’ fourth interception of the season, and their second by a cornerback.

A Los Angeles native, Ducre immediately looked to the stands as he jogged to the sidelines. His mother had traveled north to see him play, but he couldn’t see her in a joyous group of his hometown fans, all standing and slapping hands.

“I feel like my whole life, I’ve been an underdog,” Ducre said. “I always have to wait in line and wait for my chance to come. When that chance comes, they always say take it and run with it.”

Such was the motto for the entire Redskins secondary on Sunday. Though the 49ers eventually mounted a comeback, scoring late in the fourth quarter and subsequently sacking Robert Griffin III to cement the win, the play of Washington’s patchwork defense was a bright spot.

In a 3-8 season wrought with slim losses and controversy, it was a source of pride.

“There’s no moral victories, but we played well as a defensive unit,” Porter said. “We just have to continue to play like that, and eventually we’ll get the ball rolling.”

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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