Coach Joe Gibbs gave the Washington Redskins a message yesterday: He's angry, and he doesn't want to take any more losses.
The players had been on the practice field only five minutes yesterday when he yanked them off the field and lectured them for 15 minutes in the locker room on the importance of the team's upcoming games.
Gibbs then brought the team back out on the field, and they went through a two-hour, 15-minute practice. After the practice, Gibbs waited until all of the players had left the field before he walked off to talk to reporters.
"It was just a little get-together we had, that's all," Gibbs said as he tried to downplay the session.
When Gibbs was asked if he saw anything on the field that upset him, he said, "I didn't see anything on the field. I just had some things I wanted to talk about."
Two players, who asked not to be identified, said that Gibbs chewed them out, but one said that his talk was positive and concerned how vital the upcoming games are.
"He said, 'We've got to rise to the occasion, and each player has to look at himself,' " one player said.
It was a vintage lecture by Gibbs, who is usually low-key but sometimes loses his temper. At the halftime of a game in 1988 in Philadelphia, he cleared a table of oranges in a fit of anger. The team then rallied to win, 20-19.
This was probably the most drastic on-the-field action that Gibbs has taken since he walked off the field during a practice at the team's training camp in 1984 in Carlisle, Pa.
Gibbs wasn't happy with the way that the players were working that day and just left them on the field with their assistant coaches, who quickly ended the practice.
The Redskins, who were coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, lost their first two games before rallying to make the playoffs that year.
But the Redskins haven't made the playoffs in the last two years and slipped to a 5-4 record when they were routed by the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-14, Monday night.
They are in the midst of a three-game stretch that spans nine days and 22 hours; they play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
One player said that Gibbs stressed the importance of the next three games, including the Dec. 2 game against the MiamiDolphins.
Actually, if the Redskins beat the Saints and Dolphins, they will be in good shape for the playoffs because they are tied now with the Eagles for the best wild-card record in the National Football Conference.
It seems fairly certain that a 9-7 record will get a team into the playoffs, but 8-8 or even 7-9 might do it, as well. If the Redskins finish their games 4-3, they should make the playoffs; even a 3-4 finish might qualify them.
Gibbs is worried about the prospect of missing the playoffs for the third straight year. He is a workaholic who sleeps in his office three nights a week during the season. When the team came home from Philadelphia Monday night, he went right to his office.
Gibbs' teams traditionally have finished strong. That trend started in Gibbs' first season in 1981 when the Redskins opened 0-5 and finished 8-8. Last year, they won their last five games, after staring out 5-6.
When Gibbs was asked Wednesday how he copes with bad times, he said: "I think you go back and double-check everything you're doing."
Gibbs will start a different quarterback Sunday for the third straight game when he goes with Mark Rypien, who threw well in practice again yesterday. Jeff Rutledge, who injured his thumb Monday night, also did some throwing, but Gibbs didn't say whether Rutledge or Gary Hogeboom would be the backup.
There is a good chance that Gibbs might have all three of the quarterbacks in uniform, even though his usual policy is to have just two quarterbacks dress.
Gibbs was forced to use running back Brian Mitchell as a quarterback in the fourth quarter Monday night after both Rutledge and Stan Humphries were injured. Humphries is headed to the injured reserve list with a knee injury.
NOTES: Middle linebacker Greg Manusky, who injured his knee Monday night, worked in practice and should be ready to play. . . . Kicker Chip Lohmiller practiced his punting, just in case punter Ralf Mojsiejenko has problems with his sore ankle. . . . Gibbs also did not rule out kick returner Joe Howard, although the Redskins said earlier in the week that he would miss the game recovering from a concussion that he suffered Monday night.