The Washington Redskins had envisioned what Coach Joe Gibbs called "this season of transition." Mark Rypien would establish himself as their quarterback for the 1990s. A new generation of Hogs would take over the offensive line. A three-wide receiver set would be the offensive formation of choice.

Defensively, the Redskins thought they might have to hang on for dear life. They were nervous about their cornerbacks other than Darrell Green, didn't really have a middle linebacker and were so thin in the defensive line that a rookie and pair of Plan B free agents started some preseason games.

And it just goes to show you. . . .

"People ask me all the time if we're going to have a low-scoring or a high-scoring game this week," Gibbs said. "I have no idea. I don't know how anyone could. Things never turn out like you plan them anyway."

That goes for the Redskins, who are at the halfway point of their season with a defense having played better than anyone thought possible and an offense that has reflected the inconsistency at quarterback.

There has been little transition, at least nothing that looks much like wholesale changes. The Redskins are still the second-oldest team in the NFC -- only the 49ers are older -- and veterans Russ Grimm and Jeff Bostic are still starting in the offensive line. Tackle Joe Jacoby played well in relief of Jim Lachey last weekend and Art Monk tied a club record with 13 catches.

Gibbs and Bobby Beathard when he was general manager reportedly argued many times over whether Gibbs held on to older players too long. Gibbs fought for his veterans, and gets close to emotional as he talks about how his leaders -- Don Warren, Darryl Grant, Monte Coleman, Grimm, Green, Bostic, Monk and others -- responded when they fell 21 points behind the Detroit Lions last weekend.

"I wish all of our fans could have seen our sidelines," Gibbs said. "There was not one guy ready to quit, and if anyone had been ready, our veterans wouldn't have let them."

And despite everything -- the miraculous rally in Detroit, two close losses to the Giants and close calls against the Eagles and Cowboys -- the Redskins are about where they figured to be as they head to Philadelphia for Monday night's game with the Eagles.

They're 5-3 and, even if they lose to the Eagles and to the Dolphins, Bears and Bills down the stretch, they still should finish 9-7, most certainly good for one of the spots in the expanded playoff format.

"With the teams we've played, we knew 5-3 might be about right at this point," Lachey said. "We've got some tough games, but right now we're on schedule to go to the playoffs. That was the goal we set for ourselves. Once you're in there, you're in, and Coach Gibbs has had a great record in the playoffs {11-3}. The majority of our players have been to the Super Bowl and they know what it takes. Once we get in there, we've got a good shot."

What's so amazing about these Redskins is that they've gotten their five victories from three quarterbacks. Rypien started three games and injured a knee. Stan Humphries started five games before being pulled in favor of Jeff Rutledge, who sparked the rally in Detroit.

Now, first-year Redskin Rutledge will start Monday in Philadelphia, and for the first time in his 12-season NFL career, has a real chance to secure a No. 1 job.

Meanwhile Rypien will return to practice Wednesday and could be activated as early as next week when the New Orleans Saints come to RFK Stadium.

Whatever, Gibbs has made it clear that Rutledge will be given every chance to win the job, and the Redskins say he has been nothing short of superb, not only in throwing for 363 yards in a half against the Lions, but also in the practice days since.

He's not the guy supposed to take them to the Super Bowl, but Doug Williams wasn't supposed to be the guy in 1987. Williams started only two regular season games that year and the Redskins lost both. The point is: Things happen.

One scout said this week that Rutledge could be perfect -- at least for now -- because he is surrounded by so much offensive talent. "He's a guy that won't make a lot of mistakes," the scout said, "and that's what you're looking for in that offense. You just need a trigger guy when you've got Gerald Riggs, Art Monk, Gary Clark and all those guys."

Especially with a defense that is playing so well. The run-and-shoot Lions ripped off 35 points in the opening 34 1/2 minutes, but got only three in the final 34 1/2 after quarterback Rodney Peete got hurt.

But in the seven weeks before, only the Chicago Bears had given up fewer points than the Redskins. Green is headed back to the Pro Bowl, safety Todd Bowles is having his best season and General Manager Charley Casserly's trades for Tim Johnson and Eric Williams rejuvenated the defensive line.

The pass rush is still not what they'd like and their 22 sacks are fewer than eight other teams'. But they've played Joe Montana once and Phil Simms twice, and their teams don't allow many sacks.

But those sacks may be an indication that, after Charles Mann, Wilber Marshall and Green, the Redskins don't have any impact players. Instead they have a group that works well together thanks to defensive guru Richie Petitbon and his staff -- probably the team's MVPs for 1990.

The Redskins play five cornerbacks, two middle linebackers, seven defensive linemen, and shift players in and out from down to down. It looks confusing and statistically they're only the NFL's 15th-best defensive unit. But only the Bears, Giants and 49ers have allowed fewer points in the NFC.

"Someone once told me the most important thing a coach can do is pick the right players," Gibbs said. "I look at a guy like Donnie Warren and he's everything we think a good Redskin is supposed to be. He's been around 12 years and he didn't miss an offseason workout. He's scared to death that someone is coming around the corner to take his job and he plays like that. He thinks every year is an uphill fight and the thought of quitting in a game just never occurs to him. I think that's the kind of team we have. This is as good and as hard-working a group as we've had. Now, we'll just see what happens in the second half and how far we can get."

Redskins Notes: Cornerback Johnny Thomas, who has spent four weeks on injured reserve, probably will be added to the 47-man roster after Monday's game. That could mean only a one-game stay for long snapper Randy Kirk. . . . Guard Mark Schlereth didn't practice yesterday because of a sprained right ankle and may not face the Eagles. Mark Addickes would move in as the backup guard.