By next week, it might mean nothing.

But yesterday, it meant everything.

The Washington Redskins' 27-24 victory over Cincinnati was magnificent, led by quarterback Jay Schroeder, who refused to leave the game even though pain shot through his back and side every time he moved, and by running back George Rogers, who made up for three fumbles by dashing 34 yards for the winning touchdown with 7:25 remaining.

Down by 17 points to Boomer Esiason early in the second quarter, the Redskins (9-6) revived to win as Bengals kicker Jim Breech missed a 51-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining. That miss kept the Redskins' flickering playoff hopes aglow with one more game left Saturday at St. Louis.

It would have been a complete dream-come-true day for the Redskins had the Dallas Cowboys lost to the New York Giants, giving the Redskins control of their postseason fate.

Instead, the Cowboys clinched the NFC East title and a playoff spot with a 28-21 win, leaving the Redskins with two chances to make the playoffs if they beat the Cardinals:

If Pittsburgh beats the Giants at New York Saturday, or if the Cowboys beat the 49ers at San Francisco Sunday, the Redskins are in.

If not, they are out, with lots of time to savor games such as this in front of 50,544 shivering, smiling spectators at RFK Stadium.

"I wish I could have just sat up there and watched it," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said.

He would have seen wide receiver Art Monk catch a team-record 13 passes for a team-record 230 yards, including a four-yard touchdown reception that brought the Redskins to 24-14 late in the first half.

He would have watched three Redskins touchdowns nullified by officials' calls, including Darrell Green's second long punt return in two games. A 77-yard return turned to dust when Barry Wilburn was called on a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty just before halftime.

Wilburn also was called for an illegal block on a Green return last week, but the league told Gibbs that call was wrong, Gibbs confirmed yesterday.

Gibbs also would have enjoyed a game that even upstaged John Riggins, the 36-year-old veteran who might retire after the season.

Riggins' entrance was grand: a slow, sweet walk through a human corridor toward the field, blowing kisses every way he turned as he was specially introduced before the game.

But he never played, not even near the goal line. Gibbs said Riggins was not used because he gets stiff in cold weather and obviously did not have a chance to warm up.

After falling behind so far so fast to former Maryland star Esiason and his hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the Redskins began to etch their victory ever so steadily.

While the defense allowed only one field goal after the first quarter, the offense went slowly, perhaps because their quarterback ached whenever he did anything.

Schroeder, who cracked a rib on his right side last week, was hit in the ribs very early in the game. He had trouble breathing again, just as he did last week.

But this was even worse, because his back started to stiffen. He said he felt a sharp "twinge" every time he passed or handed off.

It got so bad late in the third quarter, with the Bengals (7-8) leading, 24-20, that Gibbs told reserve Babe Laufenberg to warm up.

But after Raphel Cherry intercepted Esiason and returned the ball to the Bengals' 39, Schroeder jumped from the bench, dashed between Laufenberg and Gibbs as they discussed final instructions and said he wanted to keep playing.

"Nothing against Babe, but it would have been a letdown for the entire offense if he had gone in," Schroeder said. "It was like the Giants game, when I came in (after Joe Theismann's leg was broken). The offense is not really sure what to expect.

"Instead, with me going back in, it came down to just gutting it out. I went into the huddle and said, 'You're not gonna get me off now.' "

Schroeder finished with 273 yards on an 18-for-35 day. Esiason had 357 yards on 22 completions in 39 attempts for a Bengals team that can only make the playoffs if the AFC Central Division finishes in a three-way tie for first place.

Gibbs had told Schroeder to tell him if he hurt too much to play. It got so bad Gibbs said he did not expect Schroeder to be able to start the second half. Finally, well into the third quarter, he said he wanted out.

So Gibbs was as surprised as anyone else when Schroeder wanted back in.

"That's the fastest I've seen him move," Gibbs said of Schroeder's sprint from the bench to the field.

Laufenberg, naturally, wasn't pleased by the developments.

"I had my helmet on, ready to go," he said. "I think if we had had the ball on the (Washington) five, it would have been me. When he saw the interception, Jay got well.

"I'm not angry. I'm frustrated. I was all ready.

"I felt like a jilted lover."

The dramatic quarterback-to-the-rescue scenario was put on hold when that particular drive ended in Mark Moseley's miss of a 40-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

But the next drive was the game-winner, begun when Wilburn recovered a fumble forced by Mel Kaufman on a Bengals trick play, a double reverse, at the Washington 42.

Several plays later, on third and two at the Bengals' 34, the Redskins called 60-Chip, a simple play designed for a simple gain of three or four yards.

But the right side of the Redskins' line (guard Ken Huff and tackle Mark May) turned its men toward the sidelines, and rookie left guard Raleigh McKenzie, playing for Russ Grimm, who suffered a concussion, picked off a linebacker with a perfect backside block, leaving Rogers to run practically untouched into the end zone for the winning score.

Earlier, one play mattered most when things looked absolutely darkest for Washington.

With the Bengals leading, 24-7, and threatening with third-and-goal at the five with more than 10 minutes still to play in the first half, free safety Curtis Jordan intercepted Esiason in the end zone.

Esiason was running to his left, looking for someone to spring free in the end zone. His pass, apparently tipped at the line, instead landed in Jordan's sure grasp, the first thing to go wrong all day for the Bengals.

Although steady Keith Griffin fumbled in Cincinnati territory on the following drive, the Redskins had finally put their foot down on an offense that scored three touchdowns holding the ball just 3 minutes 16 seconds in the first quarter.

"We really thought we had them on the ropes," Esiason said.

After Rogers scored on a one-yard run from the Redskins' "Jumbo" formation (three tight ends, with Otis Wonsley in the backfield to block) 3 1/2 minutes into the game, the onslaught began.

In four plays, it was 7-7 on an eight-yard option pass from running back James Brooks to Eddie Brown.

Rogers fumbled (the only one he lost of three fumbles yesterday), and in six seconds, it was 14-7, on a 26-yard pass from Esiason to Rodney Holman.

Minutes later, Green fumbled on a punt return. In 10 seconds, it was 21-7, on Holman's 51-yard catch.

"All I could think of was what they did to Dallas last week (a 50-24 victory)," Griffin said.

Things could only get better for the Redskins, and that they did.

"I got calls from all over from people hoping I would do well but that we'd lose," Esiason said.

It happened just the way they wanted.

Cornerback Vernon Dean suffered bruised ribs in the second quarter and did not return to the game.

Guard Russ Grimm suffered a concussion in the first quarter and also did not return.

Linebackers Mel Kaufman (abdominal strain) and Monte Coleman (hand) reported to the training room after the game, as did defensive end Steve Hamilton (hamstring).