HERNDON, Va. -- From the base of his thumb to the heel of his right hand, Jeff Rutledge's flesh was black, not blue.
But the thumb could move.
So, improbably, Rutledge was "probable" on the Washington Redskins' injury list yesterday.
"Probable" in NFL terms signifies a 75 percent chance of playing the next game, and that seemed like wishful thinking. The Redskins, led by coach Joe Gibbs, are doing a lot of that this week.
"Questionable" (50 percent) or "doubtful" (25) seemed more appropriate after the battered, bloody mess Rutledge presented in the locker room at Philadelphia Monday night.
Up to noon yesterday he hadn't tried to grip a football. "Not since I tried on the sideline," Rutledge said.
That was late in the third quarter with the Eagles ahead, 21-7. Rutledge had been blasted by Wes Hopkins' blind-side charge and was done for the night, but it suddenly occurred to everybody that the Skins' only "quarterback" was rookie Brian Mitchell, who hadn't played the position since he finished zTC running the option at Southwest Louisiana.
"I was going to give it a shot, but I couldn't," Rutledge said.
In the offensive "walk-through" at noon yesterday Gary Hogeboom called the signals. As they walked off, a football found its way into Rutledge's hands. He looked at it thoughtfully, then lobbed it ahead to receiver Carl Harry. The ball traveled perhaps 25 feet. It spiraled.
Back in the mini-gym off the locker room, Rutledge went as if to palm a basketball from the floor. At his best he doesn't have that kind of hand.
"I can grip a football," he said in answer to a question. "I can throw it, but I couldn't take a snap."
He never thought the thumb was broken, Rutledge said, not even "the second time" it was assaulted, by Hopkins.
The first time, Rutledge supposed, was early in the second half. He probably hit it on a helmet during one of the Eagles' overwhelming rushes, he said. "It's a common thing for quarterbacks," Rutledge said.
By that point Rutledge, making his 11th start in his 12th NFL season, was 5-for-16, including the three passes the Eagles had hammered back at him.
"They had their hands up," Rutledge recalled, "at the 7- or 8-yard range. I think that one guy [tackle Mike Golic] must have jumped three feet off the ground."
Later in the day, asked how he "felt" about the ignominious defeat, Rutledge murmured something about "having a chance like that."
It was, he said, "a team game and we made a lot of mistakes." But he did not cop out on the group plan. "I didn't play well," Rutledge said. "There were chances there, like the naked bootleg."
The pass off the bootleg was "there" three times, the films showed. All he could do now, Rutledge said, was "look forward to another chance."
In the afternoon Rutledge would watch while Hogeboom ran the scout team, simulating the New Orleans offense. Then Mark Rypien, expected to start for the first time since the Dallas game on Sept. 23, ran the Redskins' offense.
He was as mobile as he ever was before his knee surgery and said he was "certain" he'd be ready for the Saints on Sunday., So was Gibbs. "I was going to have Gary [Hogeboom] take some of the work," Gibbs said, "but Ryp looked so good I just let him go."
He'll decide later in the week whether Rutledge will stay on the active roster, Gibbs said. "He came out today and looked better than I thought he would," the coach said.
Improbably, Rutledge is probable.
But Rutledge warmed up, tossing softly first to strength coach Dan Riley, then putting a little zip on some throws. Before long he was throwing to receivers, 20 yards, then 30.
Improbably, with his blackened hand, Rutledge could throw.
"I wish we had a few more like him," said trainer Bubba Tyer.
* Running back Gerald Riggs and kick returner Walter Stanley went on injured reserve and quarterback Stan Humphries will, Gibbs said.
Punt returner Joe Howard is "out" for the New Orleans game. Stephen Hobbs will be activated to do some of the return work, Gibbs said.
But Brian Mitchell will do some, too. With his chance at running back and his regular kickoff returns, Mitchell will be the all-purpose Redskin this week.