WASHINGTON -- Mark Rypien didn't want any credit. He just wanted the job. For seven weeks, he had watched as others tried to take his job from him. He watched from a whirlpool, where he worked on his damaged knee. He watched from practice, as other guys called the plays. He saw some amazing things: Stan Humphries become the new kid in town; Jeff Rutledge become an old-new hero. He didn't mind the cheers they got, only that everything he ever wanted seemed to be slipping away.
Now, Humphries is on crutches and Rutledge has a sprained thumb. The Redskins were left to choose between Rypien on a gimpy knee or Gary Hogeboom on a gimpy career. The Redskins, in a serious panic, coming off their worst game in years in which half the team was injured and the other half simply embarrassed, sent out Rypien and hoped for the best, which is pretty much what they got.
You can trust the numbers -- 26-for-38, 311 yards, four TDs -- or this: In Rypien's return, he beat the New Orleans Saints, opened a clear path for his team to the playoffs, stabilized the quarterback situation, erased the memory of Monday night in Philadelphia, averted the crisis his coach kept talking about and promised, if he had any spare time, to look into this Milli Vanilli thing.
If Rypien was making a statement, that was a mouthful.
"I've made some plays for this football team," he would say later. "I'd like to say that in defense of myself."
Rypien did have to defend him self. When he was the starting quarterback, he knew that, with each so-so game, people couldn't wait to get a look at Humphries. On a team without a running game -- whatever Earnest Byner did yesterday -- the quarterback pretty much has to be great all the time. Rypien wasn't. And so he got hurt and watched the other guys take their shot. And he heard some of the shots taken at him.
In one, Joe Theismann kiddingly (maybe) suggested that Humphries was the best Redskins quarterback since 1985 when, well, Theismann had the job. A lot of guys have had it since.
"I'm not really worried about what Joe Theismann says, what a fan in the stands says or anyone else," Rypien said. "I'm not looking to be appreciated. I'm not looking when I finish the football game for someone to say, 'Hey, he led the team to the playoffs,' or, 'Hey, he did this or he did that.' I'm not looking to get any praise, because it's a team game, and that's how I feel about it."
Is anyone that selfless? This was not the day to question Rypien. Joe Gibbs had said his team was in a crisis, and the Redskins believed him, because, in pro football, a crisis is when you have to play three games in 11 days and your opponent has to play three in 12. The situation, coming off that devastating loss to the Eagles, was so critical that mild-mannered Gibbs actually yelled at his team in practice. And, gosh, now they have to go to Dallas on Thursday, in that short-week situation.
It could be worse. After yesterday's win, the Redskins are 6-4 and, with games remaining against Dallas, New England and Indianapolis (who have a combined 9-22 record), almost certainly headed for a wild-card slot in the playoffs. With any luck, sometime in their playoff run they might even get to lose to the 49ers.
They can thank Rypien for getting them past one hurdle. And maybe they can thank the Saints, who hardly put up a fight in a game that was fairly important to them, too. The Eagles might have torn Rypien's good knee off and done unspeakable things to the bad one, but the Saints, a better-natured group, never came near him.
Standing behind the Redskins line, refreshed and looking better than new, Rypien hit pass after pass, 20 of 25, in fact, on the four touchdown drives.
"He obviously had a dart board at his house," Redskins center Joe Bostic said. "He must have sat around with a knee brace on and thrown darts to keep sharp. That's as sharp as I've ever seen him."
Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders dropped the first two passes Rypien threw. He didn't seem to mind, even though the Redskins' first possession lasted 31 seconds. He felt good, and he figured someone would catch a pass eventually.
"He was sharper than anyone could have expected," Gibbs said. "I expected Ryp to have some rough edges, but he was real polished out there. He looked fresh. His arm looked real live."
Heck, let's just say it, for a day, he looked like Joe Montana.
Rypien said he benefited from sitting on the sidelines, just observing. He said his arm benefited from the layoff, saying he had "what we call a live arm." There were many benefits from the layoffs, but perhaps not so many that he'd like to do it again.
Barring injury, he won't have to sit around any time soon. The Redskins won't be quick to experiment. Gibbs' tendency to change quarterbacks at the drop of a pass has been checked by this performance. Rypien has his job back, for now. And, when he looks over his shoulder, there's no one left to see.