SAN FRANCISCO -- The quarterback search seems likely to continue for the Washington Redskins.
Five years after Joe Theismann's career was ended with a broken leg in 1985, the team's quarterback situation remains a puzzle.
That was one of the major lessons of a Washington season that ended Saturday with a 28-10 divisional-playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Despite joining the long list of teams that have lost to Joe Montana in the playoffs (the Redskins won in their only previous playoff meeting with him in 1983), the Redskins were upbeat after the game.
"I think we improved," said Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the defense. "I thought we played well. I think some of our younger guys on defense are coming on."
But there's still a cloud hanging over the team's most critical position -- quarterback.
Mark Rypien finished the season, but nobody knows if he'll start in 1991, even though coach Joe Gibbs said he'll be the starter going into training camp.
Rypien is 20-12 as a starter for the Redskins and 13-4 in the past 17 games, but he still made the critical mistakes against the 49ers that have plagued him throughout his career. Three times, the Redskins were inside the 20 in the second half and didn't get any points.
Just one touchdown in three tries would have had the Redskins within a touchdown of the 49ers in the fourth quarter.
Instead, two of Rypien's passes were intercepted in the end zone -- one of them on first down from the 15 when his arm was hit.
The third time, he faced a third-and-five from the 14 and misfired twice. On the second one, Eric Davis probably should have been called for interfering with Gary Clark, but the Redskins still didn't make the play.
Joe Gibbs has coached 168 games in his first 10 seasons. Theismann started the first 76 games before he broke his leg. In the 92 games since then, Gibbs has made 16 quarterback changes, starting Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, Rypien, Stan Humphries and Jeff Rutledge.
Although he won a Super Bowl along the way with Williams (who started just two regular-season games in 1987, the season they won the Super Bowl), Gibbs hasn't had a settled situation at quarterback since the Theismann days.
Not only did Rypien fail to establish himself this season, but Humphries also didn't do much to help his chances when he started five games after Rypien hurt his knee.
Humphries was beaten twice by the New York Giants, a team the Redskins must learn to beat if they're to achieve more than wild-card status, and was yanked in the second half against the Detroit Lions for Jeff Rutledge. Humphries ended his season with a knee injury in Philadelphia. He hopes to make another challenge in training camp.
Meanwhile, the Redskins stashed rookie Cary Conklin on the injured-reserve list with a knee injury. Nobody knows what his future is.
The only thing that seems certain is that Rutledge won't be protected on the Plan B list and will be free to move.
After that, it's anybody's guess how it will turn out.
The first question is whether Rypien even will be in training camp in July. He turned down a three-year offer from the Redskins at $700,000, $800,000 and $900,000 in September to play out his option at $275,000.
He gambled $425,000 that he'd have a good season and increase his negotiating strength. Rypien lost that gamble. Although he'll be free on Feb. 1 to negotiate with other teams, any team signing him would have to give the Redskins two No. 1 picks. That's not likely to happen.
Rypien will have to decide if he's going to take the offer or become a holdout.
"That'll be settled down the road," Rypien said.
Gibbs continued to defend Rypien after the game.
"I think Mark's got a lot of wins for us," Gibbs said. "He's a young guy. Hopefully, he'll learn from this and will bounce back next year. Maybe the playoff experience will help us down the road with him. I think it's a learning experience. Hopefully, he's going to take another step up."
Meanwhile, the Redskins will start planning for the future and put together their 37-man protected list by Feb. 1.
The team also is making a change in philosophy this year. For the first time since 1983 when they selected Darrell Green, they plan to keep their first-round pick in the draft.
"Unless the 49ers offer us Joe Montana," general manager Charley Casserly said jokingly.
L Solving the Redskins quarterback problem won't be that easy.