Just two practices after Coach Joe Gibbs opened the Washington Redskins' kicking competition, he abruptly closed it and decided to stick with the kicker he has used most of the season.

Ali Haji-Sheikh will keep his job for the playoffs, Gibbs said yesterday afternoon at Redskin Park. Jess Atkinson, who was thought to be healed sufficiently from his left ankle dislocation of Sept. 13, is not yet ready to return to action, Gibbs said.

"I just don't think Jess is back where he was," Gibbs said after a closed practice in preparation for the team's NFC semifinal Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Chicago. "Right now there's a marked difference in the two guys. {Ali} can rip it and hit it pretty good. I think Jess is still off a ways."

Haji-Sheikh, who didn't know Gibbs had made a decision when he left Redskin Park after practice, said he had "no special reaction" to hearing that Gibbs had picked him to be the kicker.

"I'm happy, I won't deny that," said Haji-Sheikh, who has made 13 of 19 field goal attempts and 29 of 32 extra-point tries this season. "I think I've kicked pretty well the last couple days. Joe, being the head coach, has got to look at all the angles. I think I've been hitting the ball fairly well."

Atkinson, who learned of the coach's decision before leaving Redskin Park, said, "I'm still just trying to be ready if they need me." He will continue to kick in practice.

Also yesterday, Gibbs said running back George Rogers missed practice with a sore lower back. Rookie Timmy Smith replaced him in the offensive script. Keith Griffin, who missed three games with a sore thigh, has returned to practice and is expected to be available in Chicago.

Gibbs said he thought Rogers would be "okay," adding, "We'll just have to wait and see."

Rogers said through a Redskins spokesman that his back has been "bothering" him since Saturday. "It probably comes from sleeping on a waterbed," he said through the spokesman.

When asked if he would be ready for the playoff game, Rogers said, "Are you kidding? I'll be ready Wednesday {for practice}."

Rogers, the team's leading rusher with 613 yards on 163 carries (a 3.8-yard average), was slowed by injuries to his left big toe, his right shoulder and his groin during the regular season.

Strong safety Alvin Walton, who leads the team with 148 tackles, missed practice with a sprained ankle he suffered in the Redskins' 27-24 victory at Minnesota Dec. 26 but is expected to return Wednesday, Gibbs said.

Less than a week ago, when Gibbs announced he wanted to watch Haji-Sheikh and Atkinson kick side-by-side to pick his kicker, the coach said Atkinson was completely recovered from his injury. Gibbs also said he was not completely satisfied with the kicking game. Haji-Sheikh had missed three of his last five field goal tries, although one was on a high snap and poor hold.

Now that the decision has come so quickly, Gibbs found himself discussing why he ever opened the position up to a side-by-side test in the first place.

"Obviously, if we had been 100 percent on everything, I wouldn't have done it," he said, referring to Haji-Sheikh's misses. "I wanted to see what Jess looks like. But I feel after I saw it, he wants to go, but I don't think he is physically there yet. It's still too early for Jess. I don't think he's back to where he was before."

In contrast, Gibbs said Haji-Sheikh rose to the occasion. "Ali right now is hitting it extremely well. He looks good to me."

Gibbs said he made up his mind over the weekend after watching Friday's and Saturday's kicking.

"Watching him kick two days, {I saw} Ali's doing good now and when I see them side-by-side, there's a difference," he said.

This will be the third playoff game of Haji-Sheikh's career and his first in two seasons. As a New York Giant in 1985, he was two for two on extra points and four of five on field goal tries in two playoff games.

"All along, I've been preparing as if I was going to be the kicker," Haji-Sheikh said. "I feel good. I think I've kicked the ball very well the last few days. I'm getting a lot of height and lot of distance and making them. I've been pretty pleased with what's going on."

Haji-Sheikh said the competition with Atkinson, however abbreviated, did not shake his confidence -- or make him wonder if the team had faith in him.

"I feel they have confidence in me, otherwise I probably wouldn't still be here," he said. "It doesn't bother me in the least. You realize they have someone who won the job in camp and they think he's healthy and there's going to be some kind of evaluation period."

Redskins Notes:

Although starting quarterback Doug Williams has not played against the Bears in the two years he has been with the Redskins, he and Chicago go way back -- to his days with Tampa Bay.

As quarterback of the Buccaneers from 1978 to 1982, Williams played the Bears eight times and the team was 4-4.

Against Chicago, Williams completed 106 of 236 passes (44.9 percent) for 1,730 yards, nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also was sacked 14 times in those eight games for a total of 146 yards.

Three times, Williams threw for more than 300 yards against the Bears, but the Buccaneers won only one of those games. That victory came at Tampa in Williams' last game against the Bears, during the strike season of 1982. He completed 25 of 49 passes for 367 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Trailing, 23-6, Tampa Bay rallied to tie the game on Williams' two touchdown passes to tight end Jimmie Giles in the second half, and then won it in overtime, 26-23. . . .

Unlike the Bears, the Redskins plan to brave the cold and practice outdoors at Redskin Park all week. The Bears, meanwhile, are heading to a dome at Notre Dame.

"We might as well work in it because that's what we're going to play in," Gibbs said.