Washington Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder, who nearly was replaced in the second half Sunday because of back spasms and a cracked rib, will take it easy again at practice this week but is expected to play as usual Saturday against St. Louis.

Schroeder told Coach Joe Gibbs yesterday that he felt "pretty good," Gibbs said. The playing-field definition of his feelings likely will come today when he tries to practice.

"(That) will be the key, how much he can take (today)," Gibbs said.

Babe Laufenberg, who was ready to replace Schroeder in the Redskins' 27-24 victory over Cincinnati, is expected to practice the rest of the time.

Schroeder apparently suffered the spasms from "favoring" the right ribs, Gibbs said.

"His back started tightening up," Gibbs said. Several times, Schroeder rose from a tackle very slowly on one knee, but when Gibbs decided to take him out in the second half, he wouldn't go.

Ribs have become a prime topic of conversation at Redskin Park in the last week of the regular season, and Schroeder's might not even be the worst.

Cornerback Vernon Dean, who suffered bruised ribs in the first half and didn't return, is going to be "real sore," Gibbs said.

But Gibbs added he believes Dean will play in the 9-6 Redskins' final game of the regular season. If he doesn't, rookie Barry Wilburn will replace him, as he did Sunday.

There was a lot of praise to pass around a day after the biggest comeback (from 17 points down) in Gibbs' five-year Washington tenure, but there also was a dash of concern about Mark Moseley's missed field goals.

In the last three games, Moseley has missed five of his last 10 attempts: from 41, 24, 47, 40 and 39 yards. He has made field goals from 25, 21, 32, 42 and 39 yards.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," Gibbs said. "We count on those. He knows it, I know it. We can't let that happen. We have to be productive. We have to get the kicks we expect to get.

"Mark's been a very productive kicker for us . . . But that's something we can't let happen."

Gibbs said he will not replace Moseley with punter Steve Cox on field goals 40 yards or longer. However, Cox is expected if the kick is longer than 50 yards, give or take a yard or two.

Gibbs said the holding on field goals, done by Schroeder, has been "complicated" because of Schroeder's injuries. But he will not replace Schroeder with Laufenberg, he said, because Moseley, Schroeder and center Jeff Bostic have just begun to get their timing down.

Moseley said the snaps and holds were not to blame for missing two of four field goals Sunday.

"We just missed 'em, that's all I can say," said Moseley, who has made 20 of 29 field goals this season.

When Moseley's field goals veer wide or fall short, Gibbs knows that observers start wondering about his well-publicized, controversial summertime decision to keep Moseley, 37, instead of Tony Zendejas, 25.

"I don't second-guess (the decision), but I think a lot of other people are right now," he said with a smile. "Everything I do can be second-guessed . . . There's always another side of it . . . But I don't look back."

Looking ahead, another position battle, certainly bigger than the kicking duel of 1985, looms next season.

Gibbs said yesterday he will choose his starting quarterback -- Schroeder or Joe Theismann, who says he will return after breaking his leg last month -- in the same high-stakes manner as he chose his kicker.

"You better believe it," Gibbs said. "Everything I know about them will go into it . . . What I know about somebody, what his background is . . . "

Stay tuned.

Certainly, Schroeder has done nothing to hurt his chances. He draws new and different acclaim each week from his coach. Yesterday, Gibbs marveled at his ability to "hit the big plays on the blitz.

"It's a real plus for him and a real plus for us," Gibbs said. "We were not doing that earlier (in the season), hitting the big plays."

Brought to the level of personal statistics, the contrast between Theismann's games and Schroeder's games is striking.

In the Redskins' 10 games with Theismann, Art Monk caught just one pass longer than 40 yards -- a 44-yarder against Dallas at home on Nov. 10.

In the next five games, Monk caught six passes longer than 40 yards, including three against the Bengals on his record-breaking, 230-yard day.

Monk averaged 11.1 yards per catch in the first 10 games. In his last five, it's 16.7.

Asked if this was because of Schroeder, Gibbs said, "It's like the chicken or the egg. Which came first? . . . Those things are hard to evaluate."

On another matter, Gibbs said he has been so pleased with cornerback Darrell Green's punt returns that he probably will allow him to return a punt "every now and then" next season, even with regular returner Ken Jenkins expected to be back from shoulder surgery.

In the last two games, Green has had touchdowns of 90 and 77 yards nullified on controversial penalties.

Gibbs loves Green's lightning-fast returns, but hates the thought of a starting cornerback returning anything but interceptions.

"I wouldn't want him to slow down," Gibbs said. "Our concern has been because he's a smaller guy and because he is our starting corner. It puts a lot of pressure on you when you've got somebody like Ken Jenkins back there.

"I just don't think you want to put Darrell back there and run the risk of him getting hurt. Maybe if he keeps running them back though, we may change our mind."