Redskins fullback John Riggins, who has wondered in recent days about how much more punishment his battered body can withstand, most likely will play Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that he will not rest Riggins against the 3-6-1 Lions if Riggins can play. "I'm leaving it entirely up to John," said Gibbs, who added he had not yet discussed the matter yet with Riggins. "But I am taking every game as if it is a life-and-death situation for us. If John can go on Sunday, he will play."

The Redskins are 6-4 and tied for first place in the NFC East with St. Louis, Dallas and the New York Giants. The Redskins play four straight losing teams -- Detroit, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Minnesota -- before finishing the season with Dallas and St. Louis.

After carrying 32 times for 100 yards Monday night in a 27-14 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Riggins said he may have to take a week off. On Tuesday, however, he said he wants the ball as much as he can get it.

Riggins did not practice with the Redskins yesterday, but he rarely has in recent weeks. Trainer Bubba Tyer said Riggins, who has had a sore back and hip, said he expected Riggins to be physically ready to play Sunday.

"He is not hurting any worse today than he has been after any other game this season," said Tyer. "He sat out most of the second half of the Colts' game (a 35-7 Redskin victory) and said he felt a little better after that than after some others, but even though one week off would help him certainly, that's not really going to do it for him.

"If our backs were healthy, it would be great to sit him down for a couple of weeks, but with Joe Washington out, it has not been feasible. I think John will be ready to play on Sunday."

In a year where mounting injuries have dominated Redskins news, there were some good signs at Redskin Park yesterday. Washington, who suffered a partial ligament tear in his left knee in the fourth game of the season against New England, practiced for the first time since his injury. And quarterback Joe Theismann showed few ill effects from getting kicked on his left hand by Mark Moseley on an extra point attempt in Monday's game.

Theismann, who suffered bruised middle and ring fingers on the hand, practiced yesterday with the fingers covered from the cold with a sleeve, but the hand was not taped.

Gibbs said those two fingers were not hurting as much as the jammed thumb on Theismann's left hand. Theismann hurt his thumb last week and reinjured it in the first quarter Monday trying to recover a Riggins fumble.

Washington caught some passes and ran several plays yesterday. Although Gibbs said Washington would not be activated, the eight-year veteran said it was not inconceivable that he could be available if needed.

"I'm close," Washington said when asked when he thought he would be ready.