There is nothing flashy about Mark Rypien. Not in the way he runs the Washington Redskins offense, not in the way he delivers the deep pass, not in the way he deals with the media.
For most of the four seasons that he has quarterbacked the Redskins, Rypien has been workmanlike and erratic and an easy target for his detractors.
He may not be perfect, but after six weeks this season he is unbeaten. And only one other quarterback in the NFL -- New Orleans' Bobby Hebert -- can say that.
"He's done a heckuva job," says Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. "He's 6-0. That's all I care about."
If the jury is still out on whether Rypien can take the Redskins to the Super Bowl -- the bottom line for Washington quarterbacks -- the evidence has begun to shift in his favor.
He has won 18 of his last 21 regular-season starts.
He has had only two games in that stretch in which he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Last year, for the first time since he took over for Doug Williams, the Redskins made it to the postseason.
Even so, the 1990 season ended with more questions than answers about Rypien. It was going to be his make-or-break year. But he got hurt in Week 3 and missed six games. He came back to inspire the playoff run. He played well in a wild-card victory over Philadelphia and poorly in a divisional round loss at San Francisco, killing the Redskins' chances with three interceptions.
He became tangled in a contract dispute last summer and missed the first 10 days of camp before striking a one-year, $1.25 million deal.
So here he is, six weeks into the '91 season, operating one of the league's most feared offenses and commanding new respect.
"We take a lot of pride in our passing game," wide receiver Art Monk said. "We spend a lot of time practicing. The biggest thing is the maturity of Mark Rypien. He's done a great job, and that gives us more confidence in him."
The Redskins try not to overload their quarterback. They are winning this year with a brick-wall defense and a bulldozer running game. They ask Rypien to hit the big play and to stay away from mistakes that will take them out of games. So far, he has obliged.
"I've tried to be consistent," Rypien said. "I've always been able to hit big plays. [But] it's consistency in the long run I want to achieve . . . I'm not putting pressure on myself. I just don't want to make mistakes that put our team in a hole."
He had some shaky moments in a 33-31 Monday night victory at Dallas, yet threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns. He committed four turnovers in a ragged 23-0 Monday night victory over Philadelphia, yet threw for 203 yards and one touchdown.
He had his moments in Sunday's 20-7 win at Chicago, too, losing a touchdown pass to Gary Clark early when the wind turned a certain six points into an interception. He battled the elements and still threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Going into Sunday's game against Cleveland, Rypien has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,156 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. He is averaging 7.97 yards per pass attempt and ranks third, behind the 49ers' Steve Young and the Cowboys' Troy Aikman, in the NFC passer ratings.
What he does best is throw the long ball. It's the intermediate pass routes that give him the most trouble. But he has made great strides in keeping a drive alive.
The Redskins are second in the NFL in third-down offense, converting 50.6 percent of their third-down plays (Detroit is first at 50.7). A year ago, the Redskins converted 46.6 percent on third down.
"That's not a freak of nature," Rypien said. "We work hard on it. It's one of the things we wanted to improve on this year."
It will all come down to the playoffs for Rypien and the Redskins. His next Redskins contract and ultimately his Redskins future will be decided by how far he takes them this winter.
The Redskins agreed to terms with free-agent defensive end Jason Buck yesterday as a replacement for injured Markus Koch, who is out at least six weeks with a torn ligament in his left knee. Buck, a former first-round draft pick with Cincinnati in 1987, was cut by the Bengals in training camp. A former Outland Trophy winner at Brigham Young, Buck had 12 sacks over the 1988 and '89 seasons, but just 11 tackles and half a sack last year.