Just as Washington's game at New England Saturday is an important one for those Patriots who hope to hold on to their jobs at the end of the season, in a less direct way it is a step to survival for Redskins running back Gerald Riggs, too.
A victory would clinch a playoff slot for the Redskins. That would extend the season by one game, giving Riggs another week to come back.
A year ago, at age 29, the rugged running back was at the crest of a proud career. He was with a new team, a winning team, that had traded dearly for him.
In his second game Riggs had broken the Redskins' single-game rushing record. After seven games he had gained 658 yards, making him a good bet to exceed his career-high 1,719 with Atlanta. In Week 8 Riggs suffered a sprained arch, a painful annoyance that he thought would keep him out a game or two.
Riggs missed five games completely and most of three others.
This year hasn't been much better, with this his fourth week on fTC injured reserve after the sprain recurred in the ninth game. "This was going to be my best year," Riggs said yesterday. "I just turned 30 last month, and I reported in great shape."
It should have been a good year. Riggs is in the first year of a contract that will make him a million-dollar man in Year 4.
He ran again yesterday, pretty hard, and there was no pain, he said. "I'm about ready to try some cuts [changes of direction]. Maybe I can begin practice next week."
"Maybe he can," said trainer Bubba Tyer. "I never had a case exactly like Gerald's, and everybody in the profession I've talked to just said: 'Lots of luck. Nothing helps but time.' "
Riggs' "best" year never really got started. First there was a holdout to get that contract. It went only a week or so into preseason training.
But there was another complication. Instead of moving to Virginia so he could do his conditioning at Redskin Park, Riggs spent the offseason in Arizona, where he went to college.
That is not the Redskin way and Riggs was not the starting running back on opening day. In a news conference the day after the Skins' 31-0 romp over Phoenix, coach Joe Gibbs noted that Riggs and Earnest Byner had shared the running assignment about equally.
That was the truth. Byner, the starter, had carried 17 times for 63 yards; Riggs 13 for 51. But all but one of Riggs' carries came in the fourth quarter, after the Redskins had taken a 28-0 lead. Gerald Riggs, the three-time Pro Bowler, had mopped up after Byner.
"Earnest is playing very well," was all Riggs would say on the subject yesterday. "They're not going to change things now."
After eight games this year Byner had carried 105 times for 420 yards, Riggs 100 times for 395. In the eighth game, the overtime victory in Detroit, Riggs gained 89 yards, Byner 53.
But in Game 9 something hit Riggs in the heel and his metatarsal bones, where the foot meets the ankle, were abused again.
He, kick returner Walter Stanley and quarterback Stan Humphries are eligible to be activated from the four-week injured reserve list Saturday.