Redskins wide receiver Art Monk, who missed practice Friday and again yesterday with a flu bug that's been going around Redskin Park, is expected to play today when Washington faces the San Francisco 49ers at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium.
"He's going to be fine," trainer Bubba Tyer said yesterday. "It's a 24-hour thing. We told him to stay home and out of the rain today so he can be ready for the game."
Monk, the NFL's all-time leading receiver for a single season (1984) and the Redskins' leading receiver this season with 59 receptions for 704 yards, was expected to attend team meetings last night.
There doesn't seem to be much doubt he will play. The question is: how much?
Coach Joe Gibbs preferred the cautious answer yesterday, perhaps remembering how a sore shoulder in Week 7 unexpectedly kept Monk out of a game the Redskins lost, 17-3, to the New York Giants.
"We'll just have to see how he feels in warmups," Gibbs said. Veteran Mark McGrath is the Redskins' third wide receiver behind Monk and Gary Clark.
Just what this game needs -- more intrigue.
The Redskins (7-5) and 49ers (7-5) share so much: Super Bowl appearances (two each over the last four years); offensive lines people have heard about; rookie cornerback Tory Nixon (drafted by the Redskins, traded to the 49ers); quarterbacks from Notre Dame named Joe (well, that used to work).
Today, they share something new: fear of not making the playoffs.
Although each team has won four of its last five games, they started so slowly this season that defending their divisional titles might be out of reach.
As things stand today, with four weeks to play, the Redskins and 49ers are tied for the final playoff spot behind Chicago (12-0), the Los Angeles Rams (9-3), Dallas (9-4) and the Giants (8-4).
The winner today gets a tremendous jump on the loser: a one-game lead and a tie-breaker edge.
"This is it," said free safety Curtis Jordan. "This is pretty much a playoff game."
Rain continued to pound the city -- and the tarpaulin at RFK -- yesterday, raising the possibility this game will be one sloppy mess. This could be good for Hogs and bad for the high-tech offense, a major component in the 49ers' status as 3 1/2-point favorites.
Then again, the last two times they've played, the Redskins and 49ers have absolutely indulged themselves in total yards.
In the 1983 conference championship game here (won by Washington) and the 1984 regular season game there (won by San Francisco), 1,749 yards were gained in total offense.
By comparison, in the Redskins' last two games against the Giants and Pittsburgh, there were 1,161 total yards, and neither game was a defensive struggle.
Quarterback Joe Montana, the Super Bowl MVP last year, went to town against the Redskins, throwing for 728 yards and five touchdowns in those two games.
San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh watched the films this week to prepare for the Redskins. "Gosh, that was a beautifully executing offense," he said. "Now, it's hardly a shadow of what it was."
After an inconsistent first month or so, the 49ers' offense has become one pretty potent shadow.
Montana, the second-rated quarterback in the NFC, had thrown just one interception in 225 passes until Monday night, when he yielded three in a 19-6 victory over Seattle. The Redskins worry about him on the run out of the pocket more than any other quarterback.
Running back Roger Craig leads the league in receptions (70) and touchdowns (12), and trails Wendell Tyler by just one yard (774 to 773) in rushing for the 49ers. Statistically, they are the fifth-best offense in the NFL.
Walsh calls this "fair to good" football, but 49ers standards are rather lofty after winning the Super Bowl.
As Walsh admits, his team has suffered a "letdown," adding, "That edge isn't there."
Letdowns, poor starts and inconsistency on offense are nothing new to the Redskins. While Gibbs says the Redskins are "the biggest underdogs" they've been in four years at home, he hopes deep down that his team is just beginning to roll.
After facing the best defenses in the league the last two weeks, quarterback Jay Schroeder, Joe Theismann's replacement, plays the 11th-best today, including the Pro Bowl secondary led by free safety Ronnie Lott.
Despite completing 58 percent of his passes and throwing no interceptions in the last two games, Schroeder says he hasn't had "a great game yet."
He hasn't had a bad one, either.
"I've had a lot of support," he said. "I hope we have a couple more kick returns and onside kicks this week."
Left unsaid was a consistent running game. Unable to reach 100 yards either of the last two weeks, the Washington running attack likely will be led by John Riggins, who missed one day of practice with the flu earlier in the week but seems to be back in Gibbs' good graces after two fumbles against the Giants.
Schroeder said the success of the running backs, playing behind an intact first-string offensive line for the first time since mid-October, is vital today.
"They know in order to control the Redskins, they have to stop the running game," Schroeder said.
Words become more blunt now that there are but three weeks after this and playoff spots are so scarce.
"If they beat us, they could go on and win their division and go right back to the Super Bowl," Gibbs said. "I'd like to think we could do that, too. They're in the same position we are."