Watered-down playoffs help struggling Redskins

PRO FOOTBALL

November 18, 1990|By VITO STELLINO

When quarterback Mark Rypien returned to practice Wednesday, he analyzed the state of the Washington Redskins.

"It's not like we're in a . . . what word am I trying to use?" Rypien said.

When a reporter suggested the word crisis, Rypien said, "Yeah, we're not in any crisis situation here. We do feel there's a sense of some guys stepping up and playing [well]."

The next day, Rypien found out the Redskins are in a crisis situation; at least coach Joe Gibbs seems to think they are, which amounts to the same thing.

Gibbs, concerned that the team wasn't taking its plight seriously enough, yanked the players off the field Thursday and chewed them out for 15 minutes.

Gibbs got their attention and made it obvious that he thinks they're in trouble.

They may not be, though. Gibbs may be behind the times.

A year ago, when the Redskins didn't make the playoffs with a 10-6 record, they would have been in a crisis situation at 5-4. Things are different this year.

That's because the National Football League has watered down the playoffs by adding a third wild-card team in each conference. That means a 9-7 team is almost certain to make the playoffs, and an 8-8 team or possibly even a 7-9 team might make it.

With the Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles at 5-4 and the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers at 4-5, the Redskins will be no worse than tied for the third spot, even if they lose today to the Saints.

They're also have a cushion because three of their final six games are against the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, so it's virtually certain that they won't be worse than 8-8.

If the Redskins lose to the Saints today and the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, they'd be facing a crisis.

But that situation hasn't arisen, and if they win two games in the next five days, it never will. The only real problem may be that the Redskins are on a plateau. It's almost impossible for them to win their division and almost as impossible that they'll miss a wild-card spot. That's probably why they may have lost their edge.

Incidentally, while Gibbs is chewing people out, he might look in the mirror and figure out why he thought starting Jeff Rutledge against the Eagles was a good idea.

*

Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes is matching Gibbs quarterback for quarterback.

Since the two teams played two weeks ago, each coach has made a quarterback change each week. Gibbs has called on Stan Humphries, then Rutledge; today, Rypien goes against the Saints. Fontes has started Rodney Peete and Andre Ware; today, it will be Bob Gagliano against the New York Giants.

Fontes is denying the rumors that owner William Clay Ford ordered him to start Ware against the Minnesota Vikings last week. In any case, Fontes yanked him at halftime for Gagliano.

The Detroit situation is complicated because Peete and Gagliano are good friends and don't get along with Ware, who's brash and something of a loner.

Fontes, though, said the situation isn't hurting the team. "If it does, I'll step in and stop it. I have ways to stop it," he said.

* When Paul Tagliabue was named NFL commissioner last year, said he thought the job would be fun.

Last week, he was in Richmond, Va., Thursday at a fund-raiser; Knoxville, Tenn., Friday and Saturday for the Tennessee-Notre Dame game; New Orleans on Sunday morning for the Saints-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game; and Dallas on Sunday night for the Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers game.

That's not bad work if you can get it. There's little question Tagliabue enjoys being commissioner.

But he's still having trouble coping with the problems of the job and avoiding unnecessary controversies. As a former Washington lawyer, he has that inside-the-Beltway mentality and doesn't always understand how things play in Peoria.

For example, Tagliabue seemed to think at the start of the year that the league easily could scramble its TV signals. The result was an uproar by dish owners and a proposed boycott of beer companies, and it wasn't long before the league decided it wouldn't scramble the signals.

Then there was the idea of awarding the 1993 Super Bowl to Phoenix on an "if" basis last March instead of waiting to see whether the state voted in a referendum for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

If the league had waited, it wouldn't be involved in the controversy over the proposal's defeat at the polls. Now the league is being criticized for hypocrisy because of its poor record for minority hiring and is being questioned about where its policy starts and stops.

A New York Post columnist wrote Friday that NBC and CBS don't give their employees the King holiday and asked how the league could do business with those networks.

The league also says it still will hold the 1992 March meetings in Phoenix on the grounds that the city celebrates the holiday. It says it can hold the meetings there, but not the Super Bowl because the meetings don't have statewide impact. That's

TC somewhat fuzzy distinction.

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