John Riggins' aching back is back.

The Washington Redskins' leading rusher missed practice yesterday with a bruised back and may not work until Friday, but is listed as probable for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

"It's not the lower back like last year -- it's higher," Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. "It's a bruise."

Concerning Riggins' availability Sunday, Gibbs said, "We'll just have to wait and see."

Riggins, who watched practice in a sweatsuit at Redskin Park, told Don Breaux, the running backs coach, that he began to feel a little tightening in his back in practice last week, Breaux said.

Then, in the Redskins' 14-7 victory over Cleveland Sunday, Riggins, at 36 the league's oldest running back, carried the ball 30 times for 112 yards. It was the most rushes for a Redskin in a game this season.

"It was obvious he was getting pounded," Breaux said. "But he was on a roll, so we kept him in there. We're hoping he doesn't have to carry the ball 30 times . . . but there was just a feeling of 'Hey, he's the guy.' "

Gibbs said Riggins has been to see the team doctors this week.

"They think it's just a bruise," Gibbs said. Breaux said Riggins, who has gained 553 yards in 130 carries (a 4.3-yard average), probably will practice Friday.

When asked why he did not practice yesterday, Riggins answered, "I'm sore."

Last season, Riggins twice checked himself into Sibley Memorial Hospital for traction and treatment of problems in his lower back and hip. On several occasions, he missed practice most of the week then started Sunday.

Until now, he had shown no sign of any back problems this season. Riggins strained his right hamstring against Dallas in the first game of the season and his left hamstring against Houston in the second game.

Both of those injuries apparently have healed.

It is not known exactly when Riggins bruised his back, although he came out of the Cleveland game for short spells twice in the first half, and walked slowly off the field after a seven-yard gain eight minutes into the second half.

He returned again in the fourth quarter and rushed nine times for 38 yards as the Redskins protected their lead against a team that had not allowed a running back 100 rushing yards in 21 consecutive games.

"He was really beat up," Breaux said. "He was really hit hard. John has great respect for that defense."

It doesn't come as a surprise to the Redskins that Riggins' back is hurting.

"I think it's one of those things that once you get it, you might get it again," Breaux said. "Hopefully, he won't have to carry it 30 times, but if he does, you have to expect this."