A slight Riggo-ruckus was raised at Redskin Park yesterday.
Coach Joe Gibbs said fullback John Riggins told him in a brief conversation late yesterday that the media had "misunderstood" a comment Riggins made following Monday night's 27-14 victory over Atlanta.
After rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries against the Falcons, Riggins said Monday night "We'll sit down or maybe lay down on Wednesday and talk things over. There's a very good chance I won't play Sunday (against Detroit at RFK Stadium). This is going a bit too far."
"(Riggins) felt like he was really misunderstood in what he was saying," Gibbs said. Later, trainer Bubba Tyer said Riggins, who has had lower back pains for much of this season, will be listed as "probable" on the team's injury report today, meaning there is a 75 percent chance he will play against the Lions.
When Gibbs was asked about the playing status of Riggins, who at 35 is the league's oldest running back, he responded, "Same as it is every other week. He's sore. We'll see how he does during the week. Hopefully, he'll be able to play. I also realize that somewhere in here, this will catch up with him. It may become impossible for him to play somewhere or another . . . John will say whether he can go or he can't . . . I think it will be week to week with John."
Riggins speaks to the press only after games, so when Gibbs responded to one question with, "You'll have to ask John," he was told by a reporter that, on a Tuesday, it was impossible.
"John said if anybody has any questions to watch his TV show," Gibbs said. Riggins is paid by WJLA-TV-7 to do a weekly segment about the Redskins.
Videotapes of an interview Riggins did with Frank Herzog of Channel 7 last Friday (aired Monday night) show Riggins saying, "Something is going to give before too long, soon, I'm afraid. Either it's going to be me physically or I'm going to take a week off. But I can't anticipate going on like this a whole lot longer."
Last night, in another interview with Herzog, Riggins again said he was misinterpreted about being used too much. "As long as I'm able to play, they're never going to be able to overwork me. I've got the machine that can handle all the overloads . . . The question is if this machine can play from Sunday to Sunday? And it has been a question from Sunday to Sunday."
Riggins' presence is crucial to the Redskins' offense. First, he has rushed for 954 yards and a league-best 11 touchdowns on 247 carries. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game four times this season, a personal record.
Consider, too, that dating back to the beginning of the playoffs following the 1982 regular season, Riggins has played in 32 games, rushing for 3,217 yards and 45 touchdowns on 845 carries. That breaks down to an average of 26.4 carries for 100.5 yards per game.
Gibbs said that if Riggins is unable to play against the Lions, rookie Keith Griffin and Otis Wonsley, usually deployed as Riggins' blocking back in short-yardage and goal-line situations, will fill in.
Riggins missed one game last year. Perhaps coincidentally, the game was against the Lions. Veteran Joe Washington filled in and rushed for a career-high 147 yards on 22 carries in a Redskins victory.
This time around, though, Washington won't be there if someone is needed to bail out Riggins. Washington has been on injured reserve since Sept. 28 with a knee injury. Although he is eligible to return immediately to the active roster, he has not fully recovered.
"It's reallly had an effect on John," Washington said yesterday. "With me out, John has had to carry an extra 10 or so more times per game."
Tyer said Washington tested his injured left knee Monday and that it was found to be 18 percent weaker than his right knee. Although Washington said he hoped to return to practice perhaps as early as this week, Tyer said he normally waits for a player with a knee injury to have his weaker knee within 10 percent of normal strength.
And Gibbs said that once Washington returns to pratice it likely would take two weeks of work before he would be ready to play in a game.
Riggins needs just 54 yards to become the oldest player in league history to rush for 1,000 in a season. Pittsburgh's John Henry Johnson was 35 years, one month old when he broke the barrier in 1964. Riggins is 35 years, four months old.
"You would see him standing in the huddle, breathing hard and his lips are blue. You know he's hurting, but he's still giving 100 percent," said center Rick Donnalley.
The Redskins' offense was held to a season-low 255 yards Monday night. Gibbs pointed out that they had several plays, including an "11-up blitz," where they lost big yardage. But with Riggins rushing 20 time-consuming times for 67 yards in the second half, and with quarterback Joe Theismann completing 10 of 11 passes for 88 yards in the half (he finished 19 of 25 for 170 yards), the offense produced enough to win.
"It's hard to be satisfied as a coach," Gibbs said. "Two (scoring) drives are not enough, but two drives are awful good. To go over 60 yards (on a drive) is hard to do. I was disappointed we took some losses. We were not as consistent as we would like to be on offense or defense."
Defensive Coach Richie Petitbon seemed pleased by the fact that his unit had held the Falcons to 272 yards. That marked the fourth time the defense had achieved one of its pregame goals of keeping an opponent under 300 net yards.
The pass rush got seven quarterback sacks for the second consecutive week. The Redskins have 40 sacks, rating third best in the league behind Seattle (47) and Chicago (42), and are on a 64-sack pace that would break the team record of 56 set in 1981.
"Our pass defense was very good yesterday," Petitbon said. "Our two cornerbacks (Darrell Green and Vernon Dean) played excellent. And you should win with seven sacks."
Petitbon said he was not concerned over the fact that the Falcons' Gerald Riggs rushed for 134 yards on 27 carries, becoming the first opposing runner to gain 100 yards or more since the Los Angeles Raiders' Marcus Allen ran for 191 in the Super Bowl.
"Riggs gained 57 yards on two short-yardage plays. In both cases, there was a missed tackle. Those 57 yards could easily have been two yards and even no yards," Petitbon said. On both plays, Riggs burst through the crowded line of scrimmage on third and one and was kept from scoring long touchdowns by Green, the cornerback with world-class speed.
Wide receiver Art Monk might miss practice time this week because of lower back pains that are not believed to be serious.