HERNDON, Va. -- Gerald Riggs, who arrived in Washington with such fanfare three years ago, may be near his last hurrah with the Redskins.
When the Redskins gave up first- and second-round draft picks to get Riggs from the Atlanta Falcons in 1988, he was supposed to be their new John Riggins.
But Riggs was hampered by injuries in his first two seasons with the team, lost his starting job to Earnest Byner and was waived at the final cut at the end of training camp this year and re-signed when no other team claimed him and his contract worth about $1 million.
As a short-yardage back who spelled Byner on occasion, Riggs scored seven touchdowns in the first seven games, including two 1-yard plunges in the 42-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
But his third-quarter fumble that Vince Newsome returned 37 yards for a touchdown and the explosive display of running by rookie Ricky Ervins apparently have downgraded Riggs.
Riggs took the blame for the fumble: "It was one of those days it didn't work out. I really don't know what happened."
Coach Joe Gibbs said: "I think Gerald has been a productive guy in what we've asked him to do. I don't like him fumbling the football, and he knows that. Our reason for having Gerald was a big guy who can move the pile on short yardage and goal line and be a darn good back in there carrying the football and for protecting the football.
"You like for your guys to be protecting the football. The reason why you're a little bit leery sometimes about playing a younger guy is fumbles and mistakes. That's why you don't like some of your veteran guys to fumble it.
"You can't do that and continue to want to play a lot. What that leads to is a guy like Ricky Ervins getting in there, and, when he does, he plays as well as he does. I think as a coach you have to look at it and say, 'Hey, I'm going to get him in the ballgame.' "
Ervins played well in training camp, but Gibbs is reluctant to play rookie running backs, and Ervins missed the second game with a heel injury. He had carried only five times the past five games after carrying six times in the opener against the Detroit Lions, when the team had a 45-0 lead.
"So far, things have been going so good for us, and the other guys have been playing well, but when he got in there, he made the most of it," Gibbs said.
Byner's bruised hand and Riggs' fumble gave Ervins that opportunity.
"I think what Ricky will do is take part of what Gerald has been getting,and you're going to try to get him in there to take some load off Earnest," Gibbs said. "I think for both of them [Byner and Riggs], what it means is another guy that we can get in there to help our team."
The closest Gibbs came to saying that Ervins is now the backup came when he said: "We're not going to change the way we're starting, and Earnest is going to lead us. But I think we're going to look to get the other guy in there as fast and as quick as you can."
NOTES: The Redskins went without a penalty in a game Sunday for the first time since 1975. . . . S Terry Hoage, who suffered a broken arm in the last minute of the Browns game, is out for the season. The Redskins apparently won't sign another player, but they haven't decided whether to activate Alvin Walton from injured reserve for the Giants game Oct. 27 or leave Hoage on the inactive list for a week or 2 before making a move from IR.