HERNDON,VA. — HERNDON, Va. -- Joe Gibbs gave running back Earnest Byner what amounted to a vote of confidence yesterday.
The Washington Redskins coach refused to blame Byner's fourth-quarter drop for the team's 21-10 loss to the New York Giants Sunday.
"You can't blame one guy for one play," he said.
Byner could have given the Redskins a 17-14 lead with 6 minutes, 51 seconds left by catching a Stan Humphries pass in the end zone. Instead, it bounced off him into the arms of Greg Jackson for an interception.
In the team meeting yesterday, Gibbs said that when the players looked at the videotape of the play, he told Byner: "Hey, you fight your guts out all the time. It's too bad that had to happen."
When a punt hit Johnny Thomas on the leg two weeks in the fourth quarter against the Giants, Gibbs wasn't so sympathetic. Thomas wound up on the injured reserve list the next day.
But Thomas was a special teams player, and Byner is one of the key players on offense for the Redskins.
"The guy has laid his guts on the line, blocking in goal line and everything else. Hey, he dropped a pass. I've called bad plays. We've had guys who've made bad punts, we've had missed tackles. It's just something that happened," Gibbs said.
This isn't the first time Byner has had this misfortune. He made a critical misplay in three losing playoff games when he played for the Cleveland Browns, including his fourth-period fumble in the 1987 American Football Conference title game in Denver.
"The only way you can't make those mistakes is not to be in there. This guy has played great in big games. If you're in there enough, there's probably going to be some things happen to you. A couple of things have happened to him at tough times that got a lot of attention focused on him. I feel bad for him because of that. Hey, that's the life he lives and we all live in the NFL," Gibbs said.
Byner again declined to comment yesterday. He said he hasn't been talking to reporters the past three weeks, but didn't give any reasons for why he stopped talking.
"It's nothing personal," he said. "It's just me."
Gibbs also backed quarterback Stan Humphries, who is 2-2 in four starts.
"I feel very good about Stan being in there. He's a young guy, and we're going with him," he said.
But the Redskins could have a budding quarterback controversy, because Mark Rypien, who injured his knee on Sept. 23, tested his knee on the field for the first time yesterday and said he hopes he'll be ready to start practicing by next Wednesday.
Rypien will attempt to get the job back, but said, "I'm not going to be the type of guy who, if not given the job, is going to give in and throw in the towel."
Rypien also probably won't sulk the way Jay Schroeder did when he was benched for Doug Williams in 1987.
How Humphries plays in the next few games likely will determine whether Rypien is going to get another shot this season.
Gibbs said: "I always think long and hard before I pull any $H quarterback out. I like a lot of things he's [Humphries] doing. We're just going to have to see how he does down the road."
Despite the two losses to the Giants, the Redskins have the best record, at 4-3, of the potential wild-card teams and have a good shot at making the playoffs for the first time in three years.
"I think that this team will either prove itself over the next nine weeks and get into the playoffs or it won't. I think we're going to see how good we are. I think it's going to be answered on the field," Gibbs said.
NOTES: Although Everson Walls of the Giants said he read the play on his second interception at the snap of the ball Sunday, Gibbs said it was the first time the Redskins have run that play this year. . . Ricky Sanders' scheduled court appearance in Houston yesterday was postponed until today because his flight was delayed. Sanders isn't expected to go on trial until after the season on charges aggravated assault stemming from an incident in a Houston parking lot on May 1.