Joe Gibbs called what happened last Monday night in Philadelphia "an awful, awful experience." Jeff Bostic called it the night "we laid the golden egg." Kelvin Bryant called it "a time when we just stunk the joint out."

The turning point in yesterday's 31-17 manhandling of the Saints occurred last Thursday, when a concerned and angry Gibbs delivered a diatribe, the intensity of which rarely had been matched in his tenure as head coach. This was The Week of Urgency for the Washington Redskins.

When asked if this game was fairly important, Monte Coleman said: "Make that very important. If we had lost this one, there'd have been a whole new 45 getting dressed in this room next week."

The always understated Coleman wasn't overstating the urgency of this week by much. A loss yesterday would have left the Redskins one game behind the Eagles and essentially one game behind the Saints, with the Packers breathing down their necks in the race for the NFC's three wild-card playoff spots.

And the Redskins weren't coming off a game in which they simply had a bad night. They were wretched. Often after a defeat, Gibbs will point out that the team played hard but just didn't make the plays. This time, the Redskins didn't even have the consolation of hearing those words around the locker room.

From all accounts, Gibbs never has been as angry as he was last week. Not only was his team humiliated, but by a loud, boisterous group of Eagles coached by a man who is -- how do we say this? -- not one of Gibbs's favorite people. One of the kinder comments the Eagles shouted as the stretcher was coming out to cart off a Redskin for the umpteenth time was, "Hey, you guys need any more body bags?"

So Gibbs, on Thursday, challenged his players. All of them. This was no Win One for the Gibber speech. This was more like Win One to Keep Your Job. Coaches who lose it once a month wouldn't have gotten a rise out of their teams. Gibbs, who does this once a decade, saw his players snap to attention. The Redskins didn't have another week to waste.

"If I was coach, I'd have been just as angry as he was," said Coleman, a three-decade Redskin. "Yes, I was surprised, but I accepted his anger. He just made clear that this isn't the way the Redskins play. Yes, I think what he did was important. This was like a playoff game for us."

Bostic, asked if Gibbs approached this week any differently, said: "He was as intense this week as I've ever seen him. He was extremely upset about the way we played Monday night, which he should have been. His anger and his concern were reflected today in the way we played."

Gibbs, not surprisingly, tried to play down Thursday's session. Twice he was asked how much it had to do with beating the Saints and twice Gibbs said, "Probably nothing."

The players knew better. "The meeting helped," Bostic said, even though the Hogs took their share of the heat during the session. "What Coach Gibbs did was give himself a great opportunity to air his thoughts and give everybody listening a chance to get better attuned to what he was thinking. We should have these meetings every week."

The victory over the Saints provided a release from the frustration of Monday night and a sense of relief. Asked about an especially violent spike of the ball after his touchdown reception, Kelvin Bryant smiled and said: "I tried to crush all the air out of it, I think. . . . I can honestly say I've never seen Coach Gibbs that upset. It helped."

While the decibel level of Gibbs's state-of-the-Redskins address may have been unprecedented, his taking hold of a team after a disconcerting loss was not. The Redskins have played badly on Monday nights; they've lost five straight. But on the Sundays after Monday Night, despite the short work week, the Redskins are 15-2. That's no coincidence; it's evidence of a coach who can convince his team that Monday's loss shouldn't carry over to Sunday.

"We have a history, and it's hard to figure out exactly why," Coleman said, "of always bouncing back after difficult losses."

In 1988, after being dismantled on a Sunday night by the Oilers, 41-17, in a game reminiscent of Monday night in Philly, the Redskins regrouped in the following game to beat the Saints, 27-24.

In 1986, after a distressing 30-6 loss to the Cowboys, the Redskins came back with a 28-21 victory over the Cardinals. In 1985, the Cowboys took the Redskins apart in the opener, 44-14, prompting some gloomy forecasts. But they got over it in time to beat the Oilers, 16-13, the following week.

Gibbs turned philosophical for one minute during his postgame news conference: "In life you're going to have bad times," he said. "As a football team you're going to have bad times. The real key is how you bounce back."

Gibbs was asked whether he could remember any week that was as trying for him, as a coach. "There probably have been some," he said, "although right now I can't think of any {because} I was so focused on this one. I don't think there could have been much worse than what happened to us on Monday night. . . . Today was a real measure of all our players. There was a lot of soul-searching. To lose the way we did was not like us. A lot of guys, I think, took a real, long, hard look at ourselves."

One devastating loss can stay with a team half a season. The Oilers got waxed by the Bengals, 61-7, last year and didn't win another game. The loss to the Eagles was just as demoralizing to the Redskins because they lost two quarterbacks, two kick returners and their power running back, in addition to losing the game. (This came eight days after almost losing to the Lions.) Despite all that and the return of a quarterback who hadn't played in eight weeks, the Redskins were able to beat a decent team that had won its last two games impressively.

More than any team in the league, perhaps, the Redskins are prepared to play the week after a loss. Yes, that's partly because the team has men like Coleman and Bostic on whom Gibbs can rely to help steady a ship gone off course. Largely, however, it's because the team has Gibbs to recognize the potential for crisis before it hits.