Less-than-Super season puts focus on quarterback Redskins' Rypien may be pressured

January 11, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- When it was all over, coach Joe Gibbs still was selling his traditional message that the Washington Redskins win and lose as a team.

"We've got a lot going for ourselves because of this whole organization," Gibbs said. "Not one person, not any one player is close to being real important in this organization. It's everybody, and it takes everybody to get it done."

Gibbs overlooked one point.

In the wake of the Redskins' 20-13 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday -- their second in the past three years to the 49ers -- there is one person who appeared to play the biggest role in the team's downfall this year.

He was the quarterback: Mark Rypien.

Rypien never got in a groove this season. He never matched his Super Bowl MVP form of 1991, and he came up short in the playoff loss.

At the end of the 1990 season, in a 28-10 playoff loss to the 49ers, he was intercepted three times in the second half, twice in the end zone.

This time, he was intercepted twice and couldn't control a handoff in the wet weather that turned into the fumble that cost the Redskins the game.

49ers quarterback Steve Young, coming off an MVP regular ZTC season, turned the ball over four times in his first playoff start to give the Redskins a chance to win. Rypien, though, gave it right back.

When the Redskins had a last shot, with a little more than two minutes left, needing a 78-yard drive to get the tying touchdown, Rypien was sacked four times -- one was wiped out by a penalty -- and they wound up on their 34 when Rypien's last pass went through Ron Middleton's hands.

There are going to be a lot of changes next season. Some veterans (Don Warren is certainly one) will be retiring. One assistant coach (Richie Petitbon) might have a shot at a head coaching job. Some players (punter Kelly Goodburn is likely to be one) will be replaced. Free agency will change the makeup of the team.

Gibbs was upbeat about the team's future. He said the Redskins will adjust to free agency the way they have to changes in the past.

"The Redskins do a great job of planning," he said. "We'll have a good plan on that [free agency]. That's been a little bit of our strength, adjusting to the tougher things that happen to you."

Despite all that, much of the focus in the off-season will be on quarterback.

It will start today, when Gibbs has his final team meeting of the season and then holds his last news conference.

A lot of the questions will be about Rypien, and Gibbs' first decision will be what public message to send to his quarterbacks.

Will he say the job still belongs to Rypien? Will he say the job is up for grabs in camp? Will he say he'll take a long look at Cary

Conklin?

Barring any high-profile move such as bringing in a veteran such as Joe Montana -- which appears unlikely -- Gibbs' alternative is Conklin.

Conklin will turn 25 in a month, and he has had three years of sitting on the bench -- two years of seasoning on the injured reserve list -- to get ready.

Now, Gibbs has to decide whether to go to him in 1993 and under what circumstances.

There seems to be almost no chance that Rypien will survive another season as the starter if he begins next season as the lowest-rated quarterback in the NFC -- the way he finished this season.

Gibbs was very patient with Rypien during the 1992 season. That he had won a Super Bowl the previous season was certainly a major factor.

It could be a mistake to underestimate Rypien. He came back from being benched for fumbling in 1989 and from the San Francisco loss in the 1990 season to have a Super Bowl MVP season in 1991.

He's also a competitor. He showed that when he blew up with a rambling, profanity-laced tirade after being asked if he was relieved the season was over.

Before his blowup, though, he said he has to do better next season.

"It's past the point of saying it's going to come around. You've got to work to get things done. Obviously, the year didn't go as well, but I'm willing to get back and make it better through hard work, going after it right from the get-go," he said.

One plus for Rypien is that he'll be in training camp from Day 1 for the first time in three years. Rypien is a quarterback who needs time in camp to get in a groove, and that could make a difference.

In any case, it's going to be a long off-season for Rypien.

For the Redskins, it's going to be a busy one as they adjust to the new free-agency rules.

One consolation of the loss is that it might have helped them in the Reggie White chase.

A victory would have put them in the top four in the league, and those teams are going to have severe restrictions on their ability to sign top-notch free agents.

The NFL and players association still are formulating the rules, but the rule of thumb is that a top four team can't sign a million-dollar free agent until it loses one.

As a team in the second four, the Redskins might be restricted to signing only one top free agent.

That could give them a shot at Eagles defensive lineman White.

The Redskins also won't have to deal with the burden of being the defending Super Bowl champions next year. Since the Pittsburgh Steelers ended their run of four titles in six years in 1979, the 49ers in 1988-89 have been the only team to repeat.

"Now, we've got to start all over again," running back Brian Mitchell said. "People will now start gunning for whoever wins the Super Bowl this year and take a little pressure off of it. I'll be ready for next year. I have to redeem myself [for a second-period fumble]. The Redskins will be back."

Off the Mark

One of the big differences between the 1991 and 1992 seasons for the Redskins was the play of quarterback Mark Rypien. A look at his regular-season statistics for the past two seasons: 6Year .. .. Att. .. .. Com. .. .. Pct. .. Yds. .. Rtg.

1991 .. .. 421 .. .. 249 .. .. 59.1 .. 3564 .. 97.9

1992 .. .. 479 .. .. 269 .. .. 56.2 .. 3282 .. 71.7

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