To walk into Veterans Stadium on a Sunday afternoon is to tread on the new burial ground of big leads and lost causes.

It is here at 1 p.m. that the Washington Redskins (7-6) will try to begin salvage operations on their season. It also is here that the still shellshocked Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) will try to save themselves from complete and total embarrassment.

Hang onto your hat. "If you watch the Eagles," said quarterback Ron Jaworski, "you never want to leave early."

Three times in the past six weeks, big leads have come and gone in games here. The latest was Minnesota's seven-minute, four-touchdown, fourth-quarter outburst that beat the Eagles, 28-23, last Sunday.

It's enough to scare anyone, especially the Redskins, who have lost twice in a row to Philadelphia and can't afford another with three games left in the season.

With the Vikings long gone, the Redskins wonder if the Eagles now will take out their frustration on another team, i.e., the Redskins.

"I expect them to come out mad," Coach Joe Gibbs said at Redskin Park before the team's quick flight to Philadelphia.

The Redskins have reason to be angry, too. When they played the Eagles the first time this season, they lost, 19-6, to a team that hadn't scored a touchdown in its first two games.

They became the Eagles' only victim in the first five weeks of the season. They got burned on big plays. They lost to a raw quarterback named Randall Cunningham, who has been relegated to the bench.

In many ways, it was a game that opened eyes. The Redskins just didn't appear to be as good as so many had thought.

So now the Redskins believe it's time for retribution. With an eye on the scoreboard and a finger on their pulse, they will take the field for a game that will mean everything -- and nothing.

Win or lose, the Redskins still won't know if they are in or out of the playoffs. A victory won't put them in the playoffs and a loss won't mean they're out.

This is uncharted ground the Redskins are walking. In their recent glory years, they had a big say in their future. Now, they have no say at all.

Their goal is simple enough: to win their final three games and go 10-6. But even that may not be enough to make the playoffs.

Someone must lose a lot for the Redskins to play beyond Christmas for the fourth year in a row. The Los Angeles Rams or Dallas Cowboys must lose their last three games. The New York Giants or the San Francisco 49ers must lose two of their last three.

But if the Redskins lose once more and finish 9-7, the 49ers or Giants would have to lose all three for the Redskins to get a wild card spot.

One thing to keep in mind: the Redskins have not lost in their final three regular-season games since 1979.

They have a new quarterback (Jay Schroeder) and running back (George Rogers) to show the Eagles Sunday, but they'll probably have their same old left guard.

Russ Grimm, who has a sprained ankle and a bruised knee, will start if he feels up to it, Gibbs said.

Today at Redskin Park, Grimm said he felt good.

Neither team has shown a consistent offense this season, but both defenses have been very good. Their pass defenses are the best in the NFL: Washington is No. 1 and Philadelphia is No. 2.

Perhaps it will be most fun to watch Redskins cornerbacks Vernon Dean and Darrell Green take on Philadelphia receivers Mike Quick and Kenny Jackson.

Aptly named, Quick had a 69-yard reception against Green that set up a field goal that put the Eagles ahead for good in September at RFK Stadium. He also scored on a 99-yard pass in overtime to beat Atlanta four weeks ago.

He is having another Pro Bowl season, averaging 18 yards a catch, with nine touchdowns. Jackson averages just less than 18 yards a catch; tight end John Spagnola 12 yards.

The Redskins believe the Eagles' greatest strength is the deep pass.

"When Quick gets those long legs going, he is motoring," said Dean, who leads the Redskins with five interceptions.

"He's so smooth. You can never tell how fast he's running because he just glides by you."

The breaks of the game often tell its story. The last time these teams played, Rogers was stripped of the ball at what was undoubtedly the worst possible moment.

He fumbled as he churned around left end at the Philadelphia 35 on a first down with 10 minutes to play and the Eagles leading, 9-6. The Eagles scored their only touchdown moments later.

You don't think Rogers, now starting, wants to make amends, do you?

The Redskins would like a 100-yard rushing game from someone, which hasn't happened since Rogers and Keith Griffin had a field day against Atlanta early in November.

That would take some pressure off Schroeder, who fumbled twice and was intercepted twice in the loss to San Francisco after two good games as a starter.

But the Eagles aren't as easy to beat anymore. With Jaworski back and throwing for 320 yards last week, their offense is anything but boring.

And the defense, so similar to the Redskins' in its back-to-basics style, has held Washington without a touchdown in the last six quarters the teams have played.

This won't be exactly easy for anyone.

"By far," said Dean, "they're a better team than the last time we played them."