Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs turned 45 yesterday. On the front of the card he received from his wife, Pat, was the message, "It's great the way you put a mess back together."
Gibbs opened it up. Inside, it read:
"Of course, if you hadn't messed it up in the first place . . . "
Coming off two victories, he could laugh long and hard.
"I thought it was pretty appropriate," he said yesterday afternoon at Redskin Park. "Then I went and punched her."
The Redskins (7-5) hobbled into Week 13 hurt and happy -- and squarely in the middle of the playoff picture.
Eleven players, nearly one-fourth of the 45-man roster, have some ache, pain or injury, although none is considered serious enough at the moment to keep the player out of Sunday's 4 p.m. game with San Francisco (7-5) at RFK Stadium.
This game could give the winner a strong boost for the final wild-card spot and perhaps even a divisional title.
It's likely that all-pro left tackle Joe Jacoby, who has missed the last six games with a sprained right knee, will practice this week and play Sunday.
"We want to get Joe ready to play," said assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel. "I hope he's going to be ready."
There was a sense of urgency in his voice. First-year tackle Dan McQuaid, Jacoby's sometime-replacement, arrived in the training room yesterday with a sore hand, neck and knee, Bugel said. He might be worse off than any offensive lineman, guard Russ Grimm included.
Grimm, who sprained his left ankle late in the first half of Sunday's 30-23 victory over Pittsburgh, wanted to return in the second half, but the coaches said no.
His injury is not as serious as first thought, Bugel said. He might miss a day or two of practice, but no one around Redskin Park expects Grimm to miss Sunday's game.
One more concern on the line is center Rick Donnalley, who snapped the entire second half with a cast around his left hand. If any one of these players isn't able to practice or play, Gibbs said the Redskins might activate rookie guard/center Chris Osswald from Wisconsin, who has been on injured reserve since preseason but practices with the team.
"We'll kind of have to take roll on Wednesday (the first practice of the week)," Gibbs said.
In the locker room Sunday after the game, quarterback Jay Schroeder found Bugel and gave him a bear hug. That was his way of saying thanks for the clean uniform the offensive line left him with.
It was the first time since Oct. 14, 1984, the first Dallas game last season, that a Washington quarterback had not been sacked in a game.
"With all our injuries, I just consider it a feat," Bugel said.
Gibbs, too, marveled at the performance against the National Football League's top defense: "R.C. Thielemann, Joe Jacoby . . . How many of those (injuries) can you take?"
If any move is made this week, it could be to bring rookie wide receiver Joe Phillips back again and place Calvin Muhammad on injured reserve, if his sprained ankle is bothering him, Gibbs said.
Phillips was cut last week after being signed two days earlier as a possible replacement for Malcolm Barnwell, who was waived. Mark McGrath is the No. 4 receiver now.
The Redskins also are concerned about cornerback Vernon Dean's bruised right knee, in which the bursar sac is filled with fluid, and defensive lineman Tom Beasley's sprained ankle.
Running back George Rogers, who first sprained an ankle, then suffered a concussion and was replaced by John Riggins, may or may not keep his starting job, Gibbs said.
He hasn't decided who he will start against the 49ers, and probably won't decide until the end of the week.
Riggins, Gibbs said, "really responded with some good, solid inside runs" in the second half, but Gibbs was not pleased that his running game failed to gain 100 yards for the second consecutive week.
But he was pleased with Schroeder, who stands taller in the pocket every day.
"He's about as light on his feet as a quarterback I've seen," Gibbs said, likening Schroeder's back-foot throwing motion to a fade-away shot on the basketball court.
Gibbs clearly enjoys watching Schroeder throw.
"It's just the way you would draw it up," he said.
"Plus, there's the vision factor. He's tall and strong . . . He's got the perfect view . . . It's too early to say how much (of the no-sack credit belongs to) Jay. We'll see over a period of time."
Now that Schroeder is 2-0 as an NFL quarterback, it should be noted that Gibbs answered The Inevitable Question for the first time yesterday.
"Next year, if Joe Theismann comes back, who's the starter, Joe or Jay?"
"You cross that bridge when you come to it," Gibbs replied.
Gibbs acknowledged that things are different now in his relationship with the quarterbacks. He was (and still is) very close to Theismann. He said he still is getting to know Schroeder.
"It's a little different when he becomes the guy," Gibbs said. "I'm probably lucky to have Jay there. Otherwise, I'd have some people tearing me apart."
All in all, though, he is quite content to be drawn into the confusion of playoff time once again.
Because of losses Sunday by Philadelphia (6-6) and Detroit (6-6), the Redskins and the 49ers are at least one game ahead of everyone else for that final NFC playoff berth.
Chicago (12-0), the Los Angeles Rams (9-3), Dallas (8-4) and New York (8-4) are ahead of the Redskins in the NFC.
After San Francisco, the Redskins travel to Philadelphia, play at home against Cincinnati (5-7), and finish at St. Louis (4-8).
"We know what time of year it is," said guard/center Jeff Bostic.
"I feel my age," said Gibbs.