Jeff Rutledge continued to hold out hope last night that his on-field career with the Washington Redskins has not come to a close. He did so even after his son, who had been watching the early evening news on television, ran across the house and told him: "They said Rypien's going to start next week."

Actually, it was Coach Joe Gibbs who had said Mark Rypien would start Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints if there are no complications with his injured knee. But no matter. A severely bruised thumb on his right (throwing) hand and a severely bruising performance by the Philadelphia Eagles defense Monday night may have put the career-long backup's dream of becoming a starter on hold -- perhaps permanently.

"At this point in your career, you look at it and say, 'Hey this is the chance I've been waiting on,' " said Rutledge, 33, now in his 12th season. "It was an opportunity that I'd waited for for a long time and I didn't get the job done. Nobody's more disappointed than I am, but I'm a fighter. By no means am I throwing in anything."

Neither was Stan Humphries, who replaced Rutledge in the third quarter, then suffered a knee injury in the fourth.

"I've been through a lot of tough times," said Humphries, who was placed on injured reserve. "I've always believed things happen for a reason and it turns out for the best later on. I don't know what the reason is for this, but I just have to go through it. I have to keep a good frame of mind because you're going to have to work hard to get this back to normal. If you don't, it's going to take longer."

As the Redskins attempt to regroup after a punishing 28-14 loss, Rutledge will be hoping the swelling in his thumb continues to subside (it was improved yesterday). Gibbs said if Rypien, who had knee surgery after getting hurt against the Cowboys in Week 3, can start, he will. Rypien has not had a full practice since the injury. Gary Hogeboom, inactive on Monday, also fits into the equation.

It potentially could make for a difficult situation. The game that could have marked the beginning of a great run for Rutledge could end up proving the beginning of the end. Even if Rutledge becomes the No. 2 quarterback, he could stay stuck behind Rypien. And Humphries eventually will return. And next season, rookie Cary Conklin, on season-long injured reserve, will re-enter the picture.

But Rypien also might encounter complications from the knee surgery this week. Or he might get hurt again. It's all so uncertain -- and just when it didn't have to be.

"The unfortunate thing is because {Rutledge has} been a backup most of his career, one of the things you take into consideration when things maybe don't go as well as you want them to go is that the opportunity might not be there again," Rypien said. "But then again we still have seven weeks left in the season. We might have to call on him again. And knowing the kind of person he is, he'll be ready. He won't let this bother him."

Really, there wasn't a whole lot Rutledge could have done Monday night. Yes, he completed just six of 19 passes for 62 yards, one touchdown and one interception that was returned for a touchown. But the Eagles were in his face throughout.

"It was not his throwing," Gibbs said. "I think anybody would have had a tough time with that kind of rush. . . . I think it was the pass rush, but at times we just didn't block them -- a number of times.

"They probably came after us more because of Jeff and our quarterback situation, but they do all the time. That's their style of play. There were a lot of times where we didn't get the job done one-on-one on pass blocking."

And the Redskins' inability to run the ball just compounded their -- and Rutledge's -- problems.

"We had a tough time running the ball," Gibbs said, "and every time we have a tough time running here, we have a tough time passing because it gives you only one way to go."

Gibbs and trainer Bubba Tyer said Rutledge initially injured his thumb early in the game when he hit it on a helmet or shoulder pads. It is the same thumb that required surgery and the insertion of several pins while he was playing for the Los Angeles Rams early in his career, Tyer said.

Rutledge would hear none of it.

"It was tough," he said, "but it's a team game. Everybody has their job to do. My job is that when they give me a chance to make plays, with the receivers we have, I have to make them. At times I didn't make them."

It was a shame, Rypien said, because Rutledge had a "great" week of practice after strafing the Detroit Lions for 363 yards as a replacement for ineffective Humphries.

"I don't think it was a thing where he wasn't ready to play," Rypien said. "I think he was more than ready to play. He was excited about this whole event."

Although disappointed, Rutledge says he is ready to get back in line awaiting his turn.

"I'm optimistic my thumb's going to come around," he said. "We'll just wait and see. I'm a fighter. I don't give up. I'm disappointed, but, hey, I told you last week, you love me last week, you bad-mouth me this week and maybe next week you never know."