Rypien's long suit appears long gone

JOHN EISENBERG

November 30, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

WASHINGTON -- He threw two interceptions. Defender dropped another two.

He missed a wide-open 1-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half.

The other team's starter passed for almost 90 more yards.

The fans' opinion? "Booooooooo," was the assessment.

The coach's opinion? "He missed some things. . ." began the post-game assessment.

Considering that the final score was 41-3, does that sound like a description of the winning quarterback or the losing quarterback? (Author's note: The preceding was a trick question.)

No, it's not that you don't know football, Sparky. It's just that this is Mark Rypien's Not So Excellent Year After, in which he can't even fashion a fashionable pitching line out of an easy win.

"Ryp did compete hard," said coach Joe Gibbs after the Redskins had punched out the Cardinals at RFK Stadium, as usual.

Experienced pro football linguists will recognize "compete hard" as coachspeak for "he didn't look so hot, but he's still a nice guy."

The Redskins almost equaled their point total from their previous four games, but it was a story about the defense and offensive line, not the quarterback. Rypien's factor in the equation was minimal.

He was not even necessarily the best quarterback on the field, and the Cardinals' Timm Rosenbach threw four interceptions, no touchdowns, generally embarrassed himself and said afterward he had "no patience at all." But Rypien, a 38-point winner, was barely better, if at all.

He did throw two touchdowns in the second half, but that just succeeded in quashing the boos he'd heard in the first half. Otherwise, his performance strayed little from what has become a familiar pattern this season: He was not good, not terrible, and not worth $12 million.

Just a year ago, when the Redskins were Super, Rypien was being called the best big-play quarterback since the young Dan Marino. It had been a while since someone threw long so accurately. No, you didn't imagine it. It did happen.

This year, he's not even attempting long passes. He's forcing throws into coverage, and getting intercepted. No one ever said he was a terrific short passer.

How could it be? How could a quarterback go from so thrilling to so faithfully unremarkable in one year?

The standard points of conjecture have been set since early in the season. He held out during camp and never established a rhythm. His injured offensive line has offered little protection. Receivers Art Monk and Gary Clark have slumped, too. It's probably a combination of them all.

But it could be bigger than that. This is a 29-year-old of very human ability, and can anyone say for sure that he's got another huge year in him? The NFL can be merciless; if your only sin is that you're not Montana, sometimes you just get your one shot. The quarterbacks who stay at the top of the game usually don't have bad years like this.

Then again, give Rypien his line and receivers in top form, and who knows what might happen?

In any case, yesterday's win offered a relatively ominous spin. For the first time in two months, Rypien was not harried in the pocket. But it made no difference.

The Cardinals' two best rushers were out injured, Jim Lachey was back and the Redskins' line gave Rypien time. But he was still this year's model. No big plays. A few decent throws. Something missing.

A telling moment occurred at the end of the first half, when Rypien froze and didn't call a timeout, had to rush and overthrew an open Ron Middleton in the end zone with three seconds left. The Redskins had to kick a field goal. Had Rypien used a timeout, he'd have had another play on which to try and score a touchdown. "A mix-up," Gibbs called it, taking the blame. But is there any doubt that it wouldn't have happened a year ago? Or that Rypien wouldn't have blown the easy throw?

"We're still off in the passing game," Gibbs said. "Hopefully, it got a little better today."

It did only in that it wasn't a total wipeout, as it was in losses to the Saints, Chiefs and Giants earlier this month. Such was the theme of a day on which the Redskins learned that, at the very least, their disappointing season would not sink to the low rung that is losing-at-home- to-Phoenix. That's one you can't explain.

But they'll need to win three road playoff games to make it back to the Super Bowl, and that's not going to happen. It's just not their year.

And it's certainly not their quarterback's year. The question is whether he'll ever have another.

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