Sometimes, watching the game films really does tell a coach what happened. Those around Washington who've worn out their video recorders replaying the tape of Doug Williams 27, Minnesota Vikings 24, know that Joe Gibbs barely needed to make an announcement yesterday about his Redskins playoff quarterback.

Every time you watch the last nine minutes, Williams keeps riding off into the sunset with the quarterback job. The Redskins have been a team in need of inspiration for some time; what Williams pulled off was Johnny Unitas stuff.

Maybe one reason Jay Schroeder has been so gracious is that he's one of the few people with the expertise to appreciate immediately what Williams had accomplished.

Against the only playoff-bound team the Redskins have faced all season, in what may be the toughest road stadium in sports, against a team that thought it was playing for its life, Williams was -- at least for a little while -- as thrilling as any Washington quarterback I've watched in the last 30 years. I'm not sure even Sonny Jurgensen ever pulled out so many desperate third-down plays with a game on the line despite dropped passes, penalties and a fairly heavy pass rush. I suspect I'm not the only person in town who's re-evaluating the limits of Doug Williams and marveling at what he did against the Vikings.

Okay, so Joe Montana completed 22 straight passes earlier this month. Williams isn't Sammy Baugh reborn. In fact, he's started two games this season and the Redskins have lost them both to losing teams (Rams and Falcons).

But, sometimes, performance must be rewarded and all other considerations, like Schroeder's feelings and a team's long-term plans, must simply be put on hold. When you have one quarterback as hot as Williams, another as cold as Schroeder, and you're likely to face a 13-2 49ers team that has won its last three games by 41-0, 35-7 and 48-0, do you have a choice?

Ironically, the Williams of a few years ago was criticized for the same flaws that bother Schroeder now. A hard touch on short passes, an inability to disguise his primary target or find alternate receivers and trouble throwing while moving left. Of course, Williams also inspired the quip: "He's the only man in America who could overthrow the Ayatollah."

Sounds funny now. Schroeder is the one with the overthrow blues and a habit of flushing dead right out of the pocket while Williams gets praised for his accuracy and a veteran knack of meandering calmly within a crumbling pocket. Whoever thought Williams would play on a team where he had the better short touch and receiver selection but the inferior bomb potential?

The Redskins' future will obsess many now. If Williams is the playoff starter, doesn't that mean Schroeder could conceivably be traded? After all, Mark Rypien gets reviews similar to Schroeder's in his early days. Such a notion was unthinkable six months ago. But it will be thought now. What could you get for a 26-year-old quarterback who's had a 4,000-yard passing year?

A whole lot.

If a young O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton or John Riggins were in circulation, if Eric Dickerson didn't have a new home, if Bo Jackson didn't sprain his little ankles, if somebody out there looked like a 1,500-yard-a-year rusher behind The Hogs, then I'd wish Schroeder good luck with his new team and hope Williams had a few good years left in him. But where are those guys? Tim Brown isn't Jim Brown and Lorenzo White may not be Charles White.

Trade Schroeder for the next Boz? No way. Stay right here, Jay. There's always next year. Work out the kinks. Joe Gibbs, who's having one of his best years, says Schroeder's future is "as bright now as it's always been." Sounds like a man who's learned to enjoy trusting two quarterbacks.

It's a tough break that Williams' reward for his work in Minnesota probably will be a trip to San Francisco. If Washington's next foe were any team in the NFL except the 49ers, a case would be made here that the Redskins have been a bit undervalued by many this season. Washington's four defeats came by a total of 11 points. Isn't that pretty close to undefeated? Finishing a year by losing, 23-21, to Don Shula in Miami, then beating the Vikings in Minnesota -- especially when you don't have Art Monk and already have a division title locked up -- doesn't get any hoots here.

If the forces in charge of fairy tale endings have their wits about them, they'll help the Vikings upset the New Orleans Saints in the wildcard game Sunday. Then, the Redskins would meet the Chicago Bears next and Doug Williams would have a square chance to continue a season of truly amazing grace.