Noble Done for Season

The news was worse than expected. Brandon Noble not only is lost for the season, he's now concerned about the rest of his career. An MRI this morning revealed that Noble tore three ligaments and dislocated his left kneecap in Saturday's 20-13 loss to New England, ending his season. He'll require at least one surgery, maybe two.

''It's going to be a long road back,'' Noble said, ''if it's even done. It'll be interesting. I knew right away that it was bad. You know where your kneecap is and when it's not where it's supposed to be, you realize that it's been better.''

Noble, leaning on his crutches in the vestibule at Redskins Park, even faced the end of his career. He did so matter of factly, taking it as part of the game.

''It's something that you have to think about, obviously,'' Noble said. ''But I'm not worried about it. If I come back, I come back. It's just another challenge to me that I have to meet. If I don't come back I made it a lot farther than most people thought I would. There's nothing I can do about it now except go rehab it and push it as hard as I can.''

The loss is a severe one, leaving another gaping hole in the middle. End Bruce Smith ripped the front office after the game, once again questioning why they couldn't have kept either Daryl Gardener or Dan Wilkinson.

Now Smith has lost another linemate.

''It just gets frustrating,'' Smith said. ''He's a strong player and he knows how to play the game. We would have been able to get the job done, Brandon and I. I had a lot of confidence in him. This is a blow. He's one of those unsung heroes.''

Del Cowsette replaced Noble, a free agent signee in the offseason. James Cannida can also play that spot and Washington might trade for Denver's Lional Dalton. The Broncos are asking for a fifth-round pick for a player who they would otherwise cut.

Also, tackle Bernard Jackson is out with a high ankle sprain, an injury that often results in being sidelined at least a month.

Chances are, the players who will replace him will have a tougher time over the nose. Noble excelled because of his leverage and work ethic. Cowsette, a former wrestler, does OK in this role. But the Redskins have never viewed him as an everydown player. Noble said he'll help prepare the players as much as he can.

''Those guys have to step up,'' he said. ''I've been in their shoes when I had to step up. I hope they take advantage of it. It could be a big opportunity for them.''

One play that Noble made Saturday stood out: On a second and seven screen play, Noble sprinted to the right flat and dragged the ballcarrier down from behind. It was still a six-yard gain, but few defensive tackles would have made that play and it forced New England to convert a third and one.

The Patriots did, but Noble made them work.

''He brought us leadership,'' Haley said. ''He helped me out tremendously as far as calling out the plays. This is huge to me. He'd talk to me and reassure me on certain plays. He just knew everything across the board. Brandon is just real consistent in the way he approaches the game.''

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