PHILADELPHIA -- When the Washington Redskins prepared to play the Philadelphia Eagles three weeks ago, Jeff Rutledge flopped at the task of imitating quarterback Randall Cunningham in practice.
"They took me out and put Brian [Mitchell] in there and let him run around. I wasn't giving them a very good look, anyway," Rutledge said.
Rutledge proved he doesn't have the arm or the legs to be another Cunningham, which is why the Redskins let Mitchell, a backup running back who played quarterback in college, handle that job.
Things were a bit easier for Rutledge when the Redskins practiced last week for tonight's game against the Eagles.
All he had to be was Jeff Rutledge.
The Redskins know he's not Cunningham, but they find out tonight if he can beat Cunningham.
Rutledge will make his first start in a Washington uniform and just the 10th -- including one strike game -- in his 12-year career tonight.
"I think, hey, it could be a great story," said coach Joe Gibbs, who wants to make sure the reporters don't miss it.
Nobody seems more surprised than Gibbs by Rutledge's
A year ago, he was the Giants' third-string quarterback behind Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler. The Redskins signed him this season to hold the clipboard behind Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries.
But Rypien got hurt, Humphries struggled last week and Rutledge came off the bench to lead the team back from a 21-point deficit to a 41-38 overtime victory over the Detroit Lions.
Now he's the starter.
"Who would give Jeff Rutledge a chance to start for the Washington Redskins?" Gibbs asked.
Nobody -- not even Gibbs -- knows how long he can keep the
"We don't know where it's going to wind up. It's one of the things that keeps us all excited about what's going on. You look at what the odds are of him getting a chance to start? Not very good. Same thing with Doug [Williams] when he came here. Yet Doug got to go to a Super Bowl. With Jeff, you don't know if it'll be one game, two, three, four. You don't know what it'll be," Gibbs said.
Rutledge isn't looking ahead, especially since Humphries is waiting in the wings and Rypien hopes to come back from a knee injury next week.
"I'm taking it one game at a time," he said.
Rutledge has no delusions of grandeur, either. He is the first to admit he doesn't have the best of arms.
"If I have to throw it deep, I'll throw it deep, but I don't have the
arm that most of the guys in the league have," he said.
Rutledge, though, did complete a 40-yard pass to Art Monk in overtime that set up the winning field goal last week.
"I threw it quick," Rutledge said. "I didn't let him get out of my range, which isn't very far."
Rutledge has a modest 2-6-1 record as a starter, and one of his victories was a 20-17 decision over the Eagles in 1987 when he was with the Giants.
Gibbs, though, said that Rutledge has the intangibles that compensate for his arm.
"He has tremendous timing, he gets the ball up very quick and he makes great decisions. He has a football awareness that makes him the kind of quarterback who can get things done. He's also extremely tough. I don't think you'll intimidate him, which is the No. 1 quality I'd like to have in my quarterback," he said.
The Redskins also have a passing offense that is perfect for a savvy veteran who can read defenses. They have receivers who run good routes and a sophisticated scheme that tends to get them open.
"I think the receivers are a big key here," Rutledge said of the trio of Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders.
If the last two Redskins-Eagles games are any indication, Rutledge doesn't need to have a great night. The Redskins won those two games by scores of 10-3 with Williams (in his last start) and Humphries at quarterback. This is the fourth straight game in which the Redskins have started a different quarterback against the Eagles.
This will be Rutledge's second start on Monday night football. His first start was a night to forget -- a 20-20 overtime tie between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in 1983 that is remembered as one of the worst Monday night games.
Rutledge completed only 20 of 46 passes and had two intercepted. Neil O'Donoghue of the Cardinals missed three field-goal attempts in overtime including a 19-yarder.
"It was a terrible game," Rutledge said. "It was still tied after the overtime period. You can imagine how boring it was."
For Rutledge, who quarterbacked Alabama to a national championship in 1978 with a victory over Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, this may be his last chance to salvage something out of a frustrating pro career.
"I've had my ups and downs," he said. "If you ask me if my career has gone the way I wanted it, [I'd say], 'Of course, not.' Yet I've lasted a long time and I've been able to cope and handle the things that I've gone through. I'm excited about this opportunity. If it's one week, great. If it can continue, that'd be great, too."