The Washington Redskins had been dormant in Dallas, flat in Philadelphia and sloppy in San Francisco. They'd all but begged the Detroit Lions to beat them and they went 2 1/2 months without winning back-to-back games.

But this latest defeat was none of those things because the Redskins went to Indianapolis Saturday night and dominated the Colts in a dozen different ways.

They scored 18 straight points and had almost a two-to-one advantage in yardage and time of possession. They ran 83 plays and allowed the Colts 48, leading by 11 points a minute into the fourth quarter and by seven with two minutes left.

And yet, as with so many things this season, the Redskins didn't win the game and were again left to wonder which way they are going in this up-and-down season.

Rookie cornerback Alan Grant returned a Mark Rypien interception 25 yards for a touchdown with 50 seconds remaining for the winning points as the Colts defeated the Redskins, 35-28, before 58,173 at the Hoosier Dome.

The Colts scored twice in the final 81 seconds to hand the Redskins (9-6) a defeat that comes close to guaranteeing them an opening-round playoff game not at RFK Stadium, where they're 6-1, but on the road, where they're 3-5.

Specifically in Philadelphia, where they were beaten and beaten up, 28-14, six weeks ago. The Eagles are 9-6 after beating Dallas, 17-3, yesterday, and with a tiebreaker advantage over the Redskins, they need only to win next weekend in Phoenix to sew up the wild-card home game.

The Redskins finish the regular season Sunday at home against AFC East champion Buffalo.

Yesterday, after arriving home at 4:15 a.m. thanks to an ice storm that kept them on the runway in Indianapolis two hours, the Redskins began to consider a game that had dozens of nooks and crannies.

It was a game that again magnified their problems at quarterback. Rypien had some moments when he was very good, completing 18 of 37 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Art Monk in the first quarter and a 53-yarder to Gary Clark in the fourth.

But he also made the mistake that killed the Redskins and throughout the game seemed constantly to be throwing behind or in front of receivers.

The Redskins are 15 games into this season and Rypien has started nine of them. He played superbly against New Orleans and Miami and has been only average or below in the other seven.

What worries the Redskins is that they have succeeded in putting together a team they like. Their defense has played well all season and Earnest Byner and the running game couldn't be better.

Gibbs chose his words carefully last night, saying: "We're 11-3 with him in there the last 14 games. He made some good plays out there and made some he'd like to have back. I think what he's going to have to do is get hot for us. He can do better. We need him playing at a high level, and he's capable of it. We have a big game this week, and we need to go all out and see if we can play a good one and get in a groove."

The Posse -- Monk, Clark and Ricky Sanders -- dropped four catchable balls, but Rypien has thrown eight interceptions in his last three starts and at least one in five straight games. What's more, he has never shown the consistency the Redskins would love to see.

Rypien again refused to alibi, saying: "We're looking for more consistency from me. On that last one, I made a bad decision. The curl route {to Monk} wasn't open, and I tried to throw it away. I didn't see the guy, and in that situation I've got to take the sack. I can't make mistakes like that."

Still, the Redskins were in a position to win. They led 28-21 when they got the ball back with 2:30 left and needed only a couple of first downs to run out the clock.

On first down, Byner (154 yards) was dropped for a loss of one. On second down, Byner gained one. On third down, Rypien missed Clark.

Kelly Goodburn shanked a 31-yard punt and the Colts found themselves at the Washington 37 with 2:01 remaining. Rookie quarterback Jeff George completed three straight passes, the last one to Bill Brooks for 12 yards and a touchdown with 1:25 left. Then Rypien threw his interception, and that was that.

What the Redskins remembered yesterday was not only that they didn't get the first down, but one of the reasons they didn't. When they most needed a running game that had again been terrific, they were forced to run behind an offensive line that had lost both starting guards -- Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Schlereth -- to ankle injuries. That threw Russ Grimm and Mark Adickes into the game cold.

The Colts stacked their defensive line to stop the run and dared the Redskins to throw. For whatever reason -- and a lack of confidence in Rypien would be a good guess -- Gibbs called runs on first and second down.

There was also the matter of penalties. The Redskins were flagged a season-high 14 times for 111 yards. Ten of the flags were dropped on the defense, and here's how it mattered:

The Colts drove 46 yards for their first touchdown, but 32 of those yards came courtesy of penalties. On the Colts' second touchdown, they drove 83 yards, but got 20 thanks to penalties.

George drew the Redskins offside five times by changing the inflection of his voice on snap counts. The Redskins said they had been warned, but that in the heat of the game it was hard to remember all they had been told.

"The crowd was pretty loud and we knew he had a hard snap count," defensive tackle Tim Johnson said. "He just got us a couple of times. You know about it, but when it's late in the game, you forget about voice inflection. I know I did, and that happens."

After the Colts tied it, the Redskins got the ball back with 1:15 remaining, and Gibbs decided to try to get Chip Lohmiller into position for a fifth field goal.

But on second and 13 from the Washington 19, Rypien found no one open and attempted to throw a ball away in the right flat. What he did was dump it right into Grant's hands.

The Redskins left the game with a long injury list. Defensive tackle Eric Williams (foot), cornerback Sidney Johnson (concussion), running back Kelvin Bryant (knee) are out for at least a week, and defensive end Markus Koch likely will miss a second straight game because of a sprained knee.

"A game like this causes us to take a step backwards," Tim Johnson said. "We'll come in Monday, look at the films and see what a mess we made. There's still a lot to play for. This wasn't really a letdown because we beat ourselves the first half. The Colts didn't do anything in that one drive. I was thinking, 'What is going on?' "

Johnson said the idea of going to Philadelphia for the wild-card opener didn't frighten him.

"I'm not scared," he said. "I'm not scared of Buddy Ryan. We've beat them, they've beat us. We won't be intimidated. We're looking forward to the playoffs."