The Washington Redskins reviewed the films of Saturday's stinging loss to Indianapolis, held a very light workout, then broke late yesterday afternoon for a brief holiday.

Before they left Redskin Park, they heard Coach Joe Gibbs say what they expected: The 35-28 loss to the Colts had been tough to swallow, and in many ways inexcusable. The Redskins dominated the line of scrimmage, handed the Colts a thorough physical beating, yet found a way to lose.

It mattered because it all but punched them a postseason ticket to Philadelphia for a first-round NFC wild-card game with the Eagles, who need only to win at Phoenix on Saturday to wrap up a first-round home game.

Still, Gibbs told his players that when they return to practice Wednesday, it'll be time to forget the Indiana trip and begin preparing for Sunday's regular season finale against AFC-leading Buffalo at RFK Stadium.

A lot of Redskins may have heard and understand that message, but it may have been directed at Mark Rypien more than anyone else.

The Redskins could fret about their defense and their injuries (Kelvin Bryant and Eric Williams may be gone for the season). But up and down their organization, they know that if their quarterback plays well -- as he did against Miami and New Orleans this year and down the stretch last season -- they have a chance to win in the playoffs. If he plays poorly -- as he has at times -- their postseason could be a short one.

"It's still out there for him, as to how good he's going to be," Gibbs said. "He has shown he can beat good football teams. He certainly has done it this year against New Orleans and Miami. He also bounced back from that knee injury {missing six weeks} and showed real toughness in coming in with a great game. He has played some excellent games and he has been inconsistent at times.

"Overall, he's going to be judged on wins and losses. He's won 11 of his last 14 starts, so that counts for something. These next few weeks will be important for him."

The last few weeks have not been his best. Rookie cornerback Alan Grant returned an interception 25 yards with 50 seconds left Saturday for the Colts' winning points. That was the clearest example of a quarterback who hasn't been sharp.

In his first six starts, he threw 12 touchdown passes and two interceptions. In his last three, he has eight interceptions and three touchdown passes, and his ranking among NFC quarterbacks has dropped from third to seventh.

But Redskins sources yesterday, while admitting Rypien hasn't played well lately, defended him. They pointed to the 1989 stretch run and to the New Orleans and Miami games (seven touchdown passes, one interception).

"We're talking about a guy who has beaten good teams," one official said. "It's not like he's incapable of playing well."

For his part, Rypien knows that the next few weeks may very well lay out his future with the organization. If he plays well, the Redskins will enter this offseason knowing who their quarterback is. If he doesn't, the offseason will be about considering Stan Humphries or perhaps a trade.

All that's riding on it for Rypien is millions of dollars, and in some ways, his career.

"I need to get hot," he said. "If we run off four or five wins now, the Colts game will be in the past. That's the thing about the position that you have to understand. I'm as frustrated and disappointed as anyone because of Saturday night.

"But we still have a lot of things to gain this season. I thought I played all right overall. You talk about making throws. There were some throws that were maybe a little behind people. Some were batted at the line that could have gotten us first downs. Those things are frustrating. You've got some pressure too, and you're throwing maybe a little sooner than you'd want to in some cases. Some throws wind up getting to the receiver a little sooner and the timing is a little out of whack. All that goes into it. I felt good throwing the football."

Rypien said the last few weeks haven't shaken his confidence, adding, "I still go out there with the same attitude. You've got to take your shots. You can't hold back anything. From a statistical standpoint, the numbers aren't as great as I'd like to have."

But he does admit to wondering what his coaches and their superiors in the organization are thinking.

"That always crosses someone's mind about what they're thinking," he said. "Can he take us where we want to go? This year will be a big step for me as far as where I fit in around the organization. I think there are times I've done some very good things and times I haven't played as well as I'd like. The verdict is still out as to where we all fit in."

It may be harder for the Redskins to evaluate him because above everything else they like him and respect how hard he has worked to go from sixth-round draft pick to playoff passer. No Redskins quarterback has been smarter and perhaps none was more popular with his teammates. No Redskins quarterback has been so quick to shoulder the blame or share the praise.

And yet, he realizes the next few weeks may decide his future with the Redskins.

"That just comes with the position," he said. "You're always going to have it to one degree or another. To me, the definition of pressure is a chance to prove yourself, and that's my outlook. I don't want it to get so extreme that it'll eat me up or make me play differently. In a lot of instances, pressure helps because it makes you more aware of things around you."

One theory inside the organization is that he hasn't been as relaxed as last season, especially because he's in the option year of his contract. Heading into this season, the Redskins offered to tear up the final year of his current contract and give him a three-year, $2.4 million package loaded with incentives.

But Rypien wanted a two-year, $3 million deal, and his agent announced early in the season he had turned down the Redskins' offer and would test the free-agent market -- which essentially doesn't exist in the NFL.

Didn't that put a lot of pressure on Rypien? Hadn't he known that making a contract dispute public wasn't the way to win the favor of owner Jack Kent Cooke, who prides himself on paying his players fairly? Had that dispute -- and the pressure to prove he's worth the extra cash -- affected him?

"I don't think that has ever been a real motivational factor," Rypien said. "I think winning football games has been my biggest motivation. But along with wins, other things do come with it. Afterward you do think, 'Is this going to hurt my chances?' It depends on how we finish the season and how well I play throughout the playoffs.

"The good part of it is that we still have everything ahead of us, both from a team and an individual standpoint. There are certainly some things I'd like to prove, and I've got to start getting hot and get it going. The Buffalo game this week is important because we lost this one after losing three in a row. We'd like to hit the right note before playing the Eagles."