WASHINGTON -- The Washington Redskins' 10-9 triumph over the Chicago Bears yesterday just about assured them of a place in the playoffs. And it raised anew the question of why they would want one. "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," marveled veteran Darryl Grant, who played against the proud bullies the Bears used to be.
"It probably never, ever will happen again," Grant said, shaking his head, "that a team will make as many mistakes as we did and beat a Chicago Bears team."
Grant, the 10th-year defensive tackle, gave the Redskins one more chance than they deserved when he poked the ball loose from running back Brad Muster as Washington trailed, 9-7, with 4:06 to go.
The Redskins didn't trail by 12-7 because the 46-yarder that would have been Kevin Butler's fourth field goal hit the left upright, halfway up.
Four or five Redskins had a chance at the loose ball before safety Todd Bowles fell on it and cherished it in a fetal position. "I was getting ready to scoop it up," Bowles said. "But the way things were going, I figured I'd better fall on it."
The way things had been going the Redskins were lucky not to be buried. They had committed nine penalties and quarterback Mark Rypien, "just a tad bit off" with some of his 25 throws, had been intercepted five times.
Washington is now 8-5, leading the Philadelphia Eagles by a full game in the wild-card league. If it stays that way, the Redskins will be hosts to the Eagles in the wild-card game the weekend of Jan. 5. The Bears (10-3) had clinched their division a week earlier, but there is less there than meets the eye.
Nine of the Bears' victims are under .500. The only "winner" they have beaten is 7-6 Seattle, on opening day. Until yesterday Chicago was the only NFL team that had gained more yards rushing than passing.
Coach Mike Ditka didn't plan it that way. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh can't throw much (he runs out of any kind of pressure) and, with Ron Morris injured, he has no posse to receive him. Harbaugh's longest gain passing yesterday was 20 yards, and that was last-gasp stuff, in the dying seconds.
Rypien on the other hand threw long, boldly, and repented frequently. In his post-game interview, he was moved to speak of the one he didn't throw, at least not to his prime receiver.
"Down on the goal line," he recalled, "when I was hit by [William, the 325-pound Refrigerator] Perry." It was early in the fourth quarter, after a coffin-corner punt stuck the Skins on their 3-yard line.
Rypien cocked, reloaded and overthrew Art Monk. "I didn't want what happened against Miami last week," Rypien said. That was a sideline interception that went for an unimpeded 42-yard touchdown.
Rypien's trouble began early, in the execution of Washington's fourth play, one the coaches had conjured to work on safety Mark Carrier, the Bears' first-round draft choice from USC. It was based on the assumptions always made about rookie defensive backs.
It began with a fake to running back Earnest Byner, followed by a fake end-around to Monk. It left Rypien rolling left and throwing deep to Gary Clark on the right side. Who figured they'd be going "up" with a first-quarter first down?
Carrier did. "We figured he'd take a bite," Rypien said, "and chase Art. But he did a good job of staying home."
Minding his own business, in other words, which was following Clark to the goal line. When the ball came down, Carrier was there. He bobbled the ball but controlled it as he fell in the end zone for a touchback.
The Bears moved to a field goal, 33 yards of their march being a run by Neal Anderson, stopped by Darrell Green's saving tackle. That turned out to be the Bears' most offensive play of the day.
But they kept getting the ball back. In the second quarter Rypien reached Ricky Sanders with a short crossing pass but Sanders, on his knees, flubbed the ball to Carrier.
That initiated the Bears' second field-goal drive, but they had help from the one Redskins' penalty that may have been a bad rap. Harbaugh, running from fright again, was chased out of bounds at his 44 by Redskins' rookie linebacker Andre Collins.
Harbaugh wound up at his teammates' bench and Collins was called for a late hit and 15 yards. It is unlikely the call would have been made had not the Bears' sideliners protested so much.
"I think it may have influenced the call," said Collins. Veteran Bowles agreed. "Harbaugh went so far into the sideline," Bowles said. "Sometimes that persuades the officials."
The third Chicago field goal was directly attributable to a wild-high pass to Clark that occasioned what Rypien called "a jump-ball type thing." Donnell Woolford outjumped Clark.
"I wasn't exactly pleased with my performance," Rypien said. "But some great plays were made out there. Carrier and [veteran Shaun] Gayle are good athletes."
Rypien "got a little bitter" on the sidelines, he admitted. "But we've got to go back out there," he said. "The stage was set for a big win."
It is professional shtick not to notice the scoreboard, but Rypien acknowledged that the Redskins were aware that the Packers and Vikings, wild-card contenders, had lost.
In his own behalf, Rypien noted that he "got some good things going in the running game." He might have pointed out that the day's one touchdown play was a splendidly professional thing.
Clark came back from the right sideline to catch a pass Rypien drilled between two of those good athletes. Then he dived into the end zone. It was good for a win, if not a really big one.