MINNEAPOLIS -- In a quiet corner of the Redskins' clubhouse, their very perceptive trainer, Bubba Tyer, was looking toward the players and saying: "Love 'em and cuss 'em, love 'em and cuss 'em."

Anybody got a better line for Saturday's game? Or for the end of the most irregular regular season in the Redskins' 51 years?

Just when the team seems to sink into maddening mediocrity, something fairly close to inspirational comes along. And just when a high-octane machine seems fine-tuned for a sustained assault, somebody globs up the transmission.

Even more intriguing, just when Doug Williams figured he'd been all but planted on the sideline, Joe Gibbs seems ready to hand him the keys to the Redskins' roller coaster.

Just guessing, but the feeling here is that Gibbs will allow Williams to keep on pitching wherever the Redskins land in the playoffs. Anyone dare script the encore?

No way did Williams believe the coach would crook his finger at a critical moment in a gesture that says: "Doug, come rescue us again."

Like the rest of us, Williams assumed Gibbs had firmly established the quarterback pecking order four games ago. The coach's actions indicated a healthy Schroeder was going to play ahead of a healthy Williams -- and the decision seemed scribbled in stone.

"I never thought I'd be playing again, quite naturally," Williams admitted after, quite unnaturally, being summoned to action midway through the third quarter Saturday.

Schroeder had thrown a one-hopper toward Ricky Sanders on third and eight the previous play -- and an interception the coach surely considered inexcusable the previous Redskins possession.

For good reason, Gibbs has allowed Schroeder to finish games such as this. Usually, Schroeder bails himself and the team out of messes he helps put them in. Against these very Vikings last season, Schroeder mustered the most valiant of his comeback charges.

"I didn't expect the change," Williams said. "I don't think Coach Gibbs expected to make it. I think he thought Jay was able to play up to his potential {when he chose Schroeder when Williams had recovered from back problems}."

This simply was the most obvious of lots of daring decisions bottom-liner Gibbs made this game -- and this season. Like all coaches, he should be watched more closely than listened to.

When Gibbs thought the Redskins needed more pop on the offensive line, Jeff Bostic lost his position without so much as a training-camp block. When Gibbs thought the Redskins needed more punch on kickoffs Saturday Sanders all of a sudden was fielding the ball in overtime.

What followed his decision to change quarterbacks was typical of Williams' -- and the team's -- fate. Williams played splendidly, but some of his buddies were not always completely supportive.

The fourth pass Williams threw ended as a finger-tip catch and touchdown by Sanders, when the Vikings tried to check him with a linebacker. Hugs and backslaps greeted Williams on the sideline. He seemed exactly the proper victory spark.

But that 14-7 lead very soon became 14-14, as the Redskins' defense surrendered an 80-yard drive to another reserve quarterback (Wade Wilson) playing well under pressure.

There was no time for Williams to consider such thoughts, but others surely recalled how unlucky he'd been twice earlier.

After winning the starting job for the second game of the season, Williams watched in horror as the special teams conspired to cause a defeat to the Falcons.

After winning the starting job for the 11th game of the season, Williams was victimized once more by circumstances far beyond his control.

So . . .

Gary Clark bobbled and lost a first-down catch soon after the Vikings had tied the score. Four plays later, Minnesota sailed into a seven-point lead that got increased to 10 midway through the fourth quarter.

"We either win in the fourth quarter," Williams said later, "or lose in the fourth quarter. Something good or bad happens."

Last week against the Dolphins, it was bad; this week against another team that needed a victory to make the playoffs, it was good.

Williams said the most important Redskins play came shortly before halftime. Had Barry Wilburn's 100-yard run with a pass interception not come about, he reasoned, the Vikings might have gotten a lead too large to overcome.

The most important Williams' pass seemed to be the first-down completion to Sanders on third and nine in overtime. With a Viking bearing down quickly and hard, Williams flipped the pass that gave Ali Haji-Sheikh the chance for a makeable field goal.

"You don't concentrate on who's coming at you," Williams reminded. "You concentrate on who's open."

Williams was seated on a porch chair. Over and over, he kept pushing history aside, choosing to look ahead to the next decision by Gibbs involving him instead of the last one.

"I've always considered myself a No. 1 playing No. 2," he said. "No way do I think of myself as the 29th best quarterback in the league."

Nearby, others were recalling a season satisfying but not quite filling.

"We made the plays this week we didn't make last week," defensive tackle Darryl Grant said.

"As a team {during the season}," Dave Butz said, "we made some exceptional hits. We just didn't make a whole lot of 'em."

Of the quarterback situation, Butz said: "We have two guys pushing for No. 1. That's the way the world goes around."

Because he threw the last critical pass, Williams gets the final word: "People said we haven't played well this season. I learned a long time ago it doesn't matter how you played but who won."