PONTIAC, Mich. -- By the modest standards of Jeff Rutledge's career, he had a pretty good season in yesterday's second half.
Replacing an ineffective Stan Humphries after the Washington Redskins' first drive of the third quarter, Rutledge engineered an improbable 41-38 overtime comeback win over the Detroit Lions that ended with the Redskins (5-3) very much in the playoff hunt.
It also ended with Rutledge, who before yesterday had thrown 24 passes since the start of the 1988 season, as the Redskins' likely starting quarterback.
"I'll go talk to our guys," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said when asked who would start a week from tonight against Philadelphia, "but I'd probably be hung from something if I didn't start Rutledge. I'll use common sense on that one, but I'll talk to my coaches first."
Rutledge, 33, who's thrown for fewer than 300 yards in a season eight times in 11 years, hit 30 of 42 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown, leading the Redskins out of a 35-14 hole. He hit all five of his third-quarter passes and his first eight overall. From the start of the fourth quarter through overtime -- which ended with Chip Lohmiller's 34-yard field goal with 5:50 left -- Rutledge completed 25 of 37 for 298 yards.
He was in charge for eight Washington possessions, producing three touchdowns and two field goals. Rutledge-led drives yielded 416 of the Redskins' 674 yards, a club record.
He forced overtime by producing two touchdowns in the final 8:41 on drives of 80 and 85 yards. The first came on a 34-yard pass to Gary Clark with 5:48 left, the second on a 12-yard quarterback draw with 24 seconds to go on a gusty third-and-five call by Gibbs. The play was put into the Redskins' offense on Saturday, Gibbs said.
"Not with me in mind," Rutledge joked. "I ran the wishbone in college, ran 20 to 25 times a game, and I still wasn't that good a runner."
"We'd been talking about it [the quarterback draw]," Gibbs said. "I saw a couple of other quarterback draws run on them and I thought we may want to use it. He's probably the last guy in the world you'd expect it from.
"I don't know what you can say about him," Gibbs continued. "He's looked good every time we've put him in there. That's his history. I don't know of another guy who's won a high school championship, a national college championship [Alabama, 1978] and been part of a Super Bowl champion.
"Every time we've used him in scrimmages, in the preseason, the team just took off. I've always liked having an older guy -- Doug Williams, Jimmy Hart -- around to add some stability. He's a producer."
Perhaps Rutledge's biggest play came in overtime with the Redskins in a third-and-15 situation at their 5-yard line. He fired a rope along the sideline to Art Monk for 40 yards, setting up Lohmiller's game-winner.
"When they called the play, I didn't know what chance we had," Rutledge said. "I knew they'd be playing back, but I put it in there and Art made a good catch."
Monk, who wasn't talking after the game, caught 13 passes, tying a team record he'd already shared with Kelvin Bryant, for 168 yards. Indeed, covering The Posse proved im-Posse-ble for the Lions (3-5): Its three members combined for 432 yards on 32 catches. Ricky Sanders had 11 catches for 132 yards, a total Clark matched on eight receptions.
"Jeff came in and did a great job," Clark said. "He made the plays he had to make. [The quarterback draw] was a helluva run. The old man got in; he was determined. That's the way it is in this game. When you want something you've got to go for it."
Rutledge's performance was in stark contrast to that of Detroit backup quarterback Bob Gagliano. Subbing for Rodney Peete, who pulled a hamstring when ex-Lion Eric Williams hit him after a third-quarter pass, Gagliano finished 5-for-11 for 68 yards.
"I think they turned it up a notch," Lions All-Pro running back Barry Sanders said. "The momentum just changed . . . I don't think it was the transition we made at quarterback, it was a transition the Redskins made."
Sanders touched the ball just 10 times, rushing for 100 yards. Neither Peete nor Gagliano threw a pass his way. Wary of Sanders on the draw play, the Redskins were vulnerable to the pass and the option play early. Then defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon gambled.
"All day we worried about the draw so much," Williams said. "Finally he just said forget about it."
Sanders gained 45 yards on a draw for a third-quarter touchdown that widened Detroit's lead to 21. The Redskins' subsequent comeback tied the greatest in franchise history; the Redskins trailed Dallas 21-0 on Nov. 28, 1965, before winning 34-21.
The Lions were ahead 28-14 at halftime despite Washington's 22:15-to-7:15 possession advantage. When Humphries was picked off (his third) by Bennie Blades to start the third quarter, Gibbs had seen enough.