One of the Washington Redskins' most stunning victories was followed by one of their easiest decisions with Joe Gibbs's announcement that quarterback Jeff Rutledge would make his 11th start in 12 NFL seasons at Philadelphia next Monday night.

Gibbs first named Rutledge his starter on Sunday after he'd come off the bench with the Redskins trailing the Detroit Lions by 21 points and led them to a 41-38 overtime victory.

Yesterday he finished the thought by saying that Rutledge, 33, would not only start against the Eagles but be given every opportunity to win the starting job.

"If Jeff can get us in the playoffs, that would be a great story," Gibbs said. "Whatever happens happens. Right now Jeff is going to get his chance."

So it goes. The Redskins couldn't have imagined the merry-go-round they were getting on when Joe Theismann broke his leg on Nov. 18, 1985.

Theismann had started 76 games for Gibbs, and when Jay Schroeder stepped in and played well, the Redskins thought one era had smoothly given way to another. It had not. In 79 non-strike games since, Schroeder has started 34, Mark Rypien 23, Doug Williams 17 and Stan Humphries 5.

If it hasn't been one thing, it has been another. Schroeder was benched, then hurt, then benched again. Williams took the Redskins to the Super Bowl, then got hurt the following season. Rypien got the job, was benched in favor of Williams last season, then got it back. His injury in Week 3 gave Humphries a chance. Humphries' slump gave Rutledge a shot.

"The most amazing thing about Joe Gibbs is what he has done without ever stabilizing that position," Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly said. "You look at the 49ers -- one quarterback in the '80s. Look at the Giants -- one quarterback in the '80s. Joe Gibbs had four and his teams kept winning. That tells you what kind of coach you're talking about."

Rutledge becomes his fifth starter in five years -- the fourth in the last 16 games. Rypien is almost ready to resume practice after his knee injury, but Gibbs said he'll still be behind Rutledge and Humphries on the depth chart at least for a while.

"People say, 'What would you do in a perfect world?' " Gibbs said. "Well, this is not a perfect world. You don't get everything you want very often. If it comes down to it, I'd alternate the quarterbacks by quarters. That wouldn't be what you'd choose, but if I thought it would be best. . . . "

That was his way of not closing the door on Humphries and Rypien, saying: "How far this is going to take us, I don't know. I'm not opposed to alternating guys if that would help us win. If that's the best way for us to win, I'd play one guy for a quarter and another guy for another. Those are tough decisions and not the one you'd prefer. But you don't always get the one you prefer. We're going to do whatever we've got to do."

Gibbs turned to Rutledge after Humphries had thrown his third interception, and Rutledge responded by taking the Redskins for scores on five of eight possessions. The scoring drives were 63, 58, 80, 85 and 73 yards and Washington finished the day with a file full of team records, including some unofficial ones like total number of offensive plays (109) and time of possession (50 of the game's 69 minutes).

Rutledge had phone calls from friends all over the country but he said one of the nicest things anyone said came in the locker room after the game when Humphries shook his hand and said something like: "Whatever it takes for the team to win."

Humphries accepted the demotion with a stiff upper lip.

"That was {Gibbs's} decision," Humphries said. "As long as we win the football game, that's fine. I'll just wait and see what happens the next week or so. I'll have a better outlook the next couple of weeks."

Humphries has thrown nine interceptions and two touchdown passes this season, but he also showed what a game of inches it might have been.

The week before Detroit, he'd completed 11 passes in a row against the Giants when a potential game-winning pass bounced out of Earnest Byner's hands and into the arms of safety Greg Jackson. He followed by throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

His first interception yesterday was thrown behind Gary Clark, but also bounced out of Clark's hands. Humphries was hit while throwing on another one, but Gibbs said it was the method more than the specific throws.

Detroit defenders said he looked at receivers too long and Humphries said his mistake was in looking to the left side of the field, then coming all the way back to the right, giving defenders time to adjust.

"Some things could have been different," he said. "Some balls bounced off pads. One went high when I was hit. Everyone has bad days and in my position they stand out a little more than other positions. Things like that are going to happen. You can't turn the football over, especially against Detroit with that offense. These things happen and you have to play through them. There's going to be ups and downs. There are going to be great days and lower days. You have to take them in stride and believe you'll be better when you get another chance."

Gibbs said the same thing.

"Every young quarterback that I know of has gone through times like this," he said. "Rypien went through it and it made him better. I think it'll be a time where he can look at this. He's got to be ready to go right back in and that could happen on the third play next week.

"I told him when I took him out: 'This isn't all your fault and I want to tell you that. But I'm going to make a change at quarterback. I want you to stay right with me on the sidelines and be ready to go right back in. If there's anything you can help with, do it.'

"He was there suggesting a couple of things, talking to Jeff and was right in the ballgame. He didn't go off and pout someplace. He's got an excellent football mind. He's got real talent and has played against some of the best defenses in the league already. I think he's got a heck of a future. On a couple of the others, he worked one side of the field and went all the way back across. That's a young guy making a mistake. He physically can do all the things you want him to do. He's got to look at this and say, 'I'm going to be better because of it.' "

Rutledge said again and again yesterday that, having spent almost all of his first 11 seasons as a backup, he simply was happy for the opportunity. "If I never play another game, I'll have this one," he said.

It was a magic moment in his house late Sunday when he returned from Detroit and sat with his family watching a replay of the game. He also remembers feeling strange on the plane ride home when he looked down and noticed the ice pack on his bruised thigh.

"I don't have one of those very often," he said. "It was like I was part of the game."

He had been part of a day that was nothing if not memorable. The Redskins had made up a 21-point deficit only once in their history (1965) and he was a huge part of matching that, completing 30 of 42 passes for 363 yards.

He ran 12 yards for the tying touchdown on a gutty quarterback draw call with 18 seconds remaining, then in overtime completed a 40-yard pass to Art Monk on third and 15 from his end zone to swing the momentum one final time.

"That was one of the biggest plays I've ever been around," Gibbs said. "You don't throw a ball any better than Jeff threw that one."