HERNDON, Va. -- When it comes to pre-game psychological warfare, Joe Gibbs has no peer.
That's why the Washington Redskins coach was quick to deny charges by Atlanta players that the Redskins ran up the score in their 56-17 victory over the Falcons on Nov. 10.
"Let me set the record straight," Gibbs said yesterday as he talked about the rematch between the two teams in Saturday's playoff game.
He pointed out the Redskins had only 15 plays in the fourth quarter of the 56-17 game and threw on only what he felt were three obvious passing downs: second-and-12, third-and-nine, and third-and-three.
On the first two passing plays, quarterback Mark Rypien, who passed for six touchdowns, completed an 82-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark and a 64-yard touchdown pass to Art Monk.
"It just so happens that they pressed us and we hit a fade for a touchdown," Gibbs said. "That's really what happened in that game. We were trying to run all the time in the fourth quarter. We just threw in long yardage [situations]. I think anybody in football would do that, try and throw it. I think anybody who saw the game wouldn't think we were trying to run the score up."
The Redskins were leading, 35-17, when they got the two long touchdown passes to boost the margin to 49-17. They got a final touchdown when Andre Collins intercepted a pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.
"I'm not going to sit here and say what we did or didn't do," said Rypien, who passed for 442 yards in that game and came out midway in the fourth period even though he needed only 5 yards to break Sammy Baugh's team passing record. "I know there's probably some animosity in them coming in here and not playing as well as they'd like."
As soon as the Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints Saturday to qualify for the game against the Redskins, they were quick to say they had extra motivation because the Redskins ran it up on them.
As linebacker Tim Green said: "A guy would have to be a liar to say they didn't rub our noses in it. They did it intentionally."
All that probably has nothing to do with the rematch, but Gibbs doesn't like the fact that the Falcons have all the motivational factors going for them because the Redskins are heavily favored because of the first game and their edge at home.
The Redskins are 9-1 in home playoff games at RFK (7-1 under Gibbs), and the Falcons are 0-7 in RFK Stadium.
Gibbs is trying to sell the idea that this is a different Falcons team (quarterback Chris Miller, cornerback Deion Sanders and tackle Mike Kenn missed the November game) and that it is going to be an exciting game this time.
"It's going to come down to the fourth quarter and some guys are going to have to stand up and make a great play," he said. "If you do, you win. If you don't, you go home."
Gibbs also knows the Falcons have nothing to lose because their season is already a success. A Washington loss would be the upset of the year.
Although most oddsmakers are picking Washington and Buffalo to get to the Super Bowl, Gibbs noted both favorites often don't make it.
"It's hard for the favorite to get there," he said.
The Redskins lost their finale to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins will find out Saturday if they can get back to an emotional peak.
"We got a trade-off. We got to rest some," Gibbs said. "But we haven't been emotionally where we've had to be. The question is: Can we get there? I don't have an answer for that, but I hope the rest will help us."
Even though Gibbs is wary of being such a big favorite, he likes the challenge of being in the playoffs.
"This is why I coach to have [this] opportunity," he said. "I think it's fun for the coaches. It's fun planning for it. Anything where there's great rewards, I think there's great risk and I think that's where we are."
NOTES: Rypien finished fourth in the Associated Press' MVP balloting behind Thurman Thomas, Jim Kelly and Barry Sanders, but he said personal goals aren't the important thing. . . . Since it's a Saturday game, the Redskins will move up their usual schedule and start practicing today.
Kansas City 10, L.A. Raiders 6
Atlanta 27, New Orleans 20
Dallas 17, Chicago 13
Houston 17, N.Y. Jets 10
Atlanta at Washington, 12:30 p.m.
Houston at Denver, 4 p.m.
Kansas City at Buffalo, 12:30 p.m.
Dallas at Detroit, 4 p.m.
* Conference championships: Jan. 12
* Super Bowl: Jan. 26 at Minneapolis