Mark Rypien must have smiled Monday when he heard Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs warn that enthusiasm for quarterback Stan Humphries was getting carried away.

"The problem," Gibbs said, "is that people will want to put Stan in the Hall of Fame one week and throw him overboard the first time he throws a bad pass. It shouldn't work that way."

Rypien knew what Gibbs was talking about. Only a few weeks ago, he was still fresh off a 3,768-yard Pro Bowl season. His agent was negotiating a multimillion-dollar contract with the Redskins and Rypien seemed on the threshold of a dream.

Whatever happened to Mark Rypien?

He turned 28 yesterday and spent the morning at Redskin Park riding an exercise bike and taking therapy on the left knee he injured eight days ago against the Dallas Cowboys. He spent the afternoon with his pregnant wife and their daughter, and predicted he'd be moving around well enough to play golf in a couple of weeks.

While the Redskins seem to have circled a mid-November return on their calendars, Rypien hasn't given up on October.

And, yes, he watched Sunday night as his replacement, Humphries, completed 20 of 25 passes and led the Redskins to a 38-10 victory over the Phoenix Cardinals.

In his first lengthy interview since the injury, Rypien yesterday said it was hard to watch the Redskins play without him, but that he never for one moment struggled with his emotions.

He wished Humphries luck, said he was rooting for him and that if he was a backup quarterback when he returned, so be it. If the Redskins were looking to him for one kind of leadership before the injury, he seems set on showing them another kind in his recovery.

He remained accessible and open while he was playing, sharing the praise and shouldering the blame. If the Redskins were wondering how he'd react to this latest test, it's no different than how he handled throwing four touchdown passes against the Bears last season.

Rypien said that although he has many personal goals, he won't forget that he's part of a team.

"It's not like it's over for me," he said. "There are so many ways you can be successful. It isn't just by being the starter and getting all the praise . . . You need to understand your role. The bottom line is winning. We get too much involved in individuals and what they're doing.

"If the tide turns and I get in there, I'm going to be ready."

However: "I can see that if in five weeks, I come back and things aren't going well, they're going to make a move and {if} it's not the way I feel, there might be some bitterness. But if things are going the way we like 'em to go and the opportunity is there for Stan to lead this team, fine."

Likewise, Rypien said he wasn't bothered that Gibbs opened the door for Humphries to win the job permanently. He said an injury to Doug Williams had given him a chance "and I was ready to make the most of it. That would be the same at any position at any time. If a guy is given an opportunity, he has to take that opportunity and make the most out of it. That happens in sports. It's not the end of the world.

"An injury is an injury, and that's part of the game. It's part of the greatness of this game. Now's an opportunity for a guy like Stan to get his opportunity and to make the most out of it."

He has told friends he watched the way Jay Schroeder handled his demotion in 1987, and that if he were ever in the same circumstances, he wouldn't react the same way.

"You can't burn your bridges in this business," he said. "You can be on top one day and a bum the next. I learned a lot from other guys. . . . As far as I'm concerned, there should be no controversy at all. It's either going to go one way or the other. The bottom line is continue winning, and if the guy's got a hot hand, that's what you have to go with. If I'm not there, I'll be there on the sideline signaling and keeping my head in the game, offering whatever tidbits of information I can. Stan has done the same thing for me."

Before his injury, Rypien and the Redskins broke off contract negotiations. The Redskins offered a three-year, $2.4 million deal that included $600,000 in incentives. Rypien wanted a straight two-year, $3 million deal and said he would play out his option and shop for better offers. So instead of the $700,000 base salary the new deal would have paid him, he's playing for the $275,000 option year in his contract. Net loss: $425,000.

"I feel fine about it," he said. "I'm not going to sign a piece of paper just to sign a piece of paper. That's the bottom line. You shouldn't be forced into doing something you don't want to do. No one knew this was going to happen. I'm going into the season figuring I'm going to have a good year and take that to the bargaining table in the offseason. If things don't work out, I'm at a loss. I think it might have been a gamble, but it was something we felt very strongly about. I can't second-guess myself."

Humphries succeeded, in part, because Gibbs returned the Redskins to basics. Gibbs started two wide receivers instead of three for the first time and began the game with an extra blocker (H-back Jimmie Johnson).

Several cautious pass routes were called and that and establishing of the running game set up two long touchdown passes to Gary Clark.

Gibbs said that, in retrospect, he should have tried the same thing against the Cowboys a week earlier, and Rypien agreed.

"Believe it or not, the defensive fronts this day and age are designed to take away the run," he said. "The first three games, we'd come out and throw eight of our first 11 plays. That had nothing to do with the coaches or players. That's the defense that's given to you. This past week we had a situation where we said he don't care how many people they bring up there, we're going to line up and block 'em and run the ball."

But he said nothing, not the change in strategy or the opponent or anything else, should take away from Humphries. "He was cool as ice out there," he said. "I'm proud of him. It was a great game. This was a big confidence builder."

Date: Oct. 10, 1976.

Stats: 20 of 37, 270 yds., 2 TDs, 2 int.

Result: Chiefs 33, Redskins 30. JAY SCHROEDER

Date: Nov. 24, 1985.

Stats: 15 of 28, 176 yds., 1 TD.

Result: Redskins 30, Steelers 23. DOUG WILLIAMS

Date: Sept. 20, 1987.

Stats: 18 of 30, 198 yds., 3 TDs, 2 ints.

Result: Falcons 21, Redskins 20. MARK RYPIEN

Date: Sept. 25, 1988.

Stats: 26 of 41, 303 yds., 3 TDs, 1 int.

Result: Cardinals 30, Redskins 21. STAN HUMPHRIES

Date: Sept. 30, 1990.

Stats: 20 of 25, 257 yds., 2 TDs.

Result: Redskins 38, Cardinals 10.