SAN FRANCISCO, JAN. 11 -- The Washington Redskins, having proven a passionate point to the Philadelphia Eagles, found themselves dealing with a different kind of motivation and emotion this week as they prepared for their game Saturday with the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park (4 p.m., WUSA-TV-9, WBAL-TV-11).
In fact, emotion and motivation were the terms that kept coming up again and again both at Redskin Park and at the 49ers' complex in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Redskins must wonder if they have any chance of being as excited about the 49ers as they were about last week's grudge match with a despised rival from the NFC East. They'd spent eight weeks working themselves into a quiet fury about the Eagles, and even Coach Joe Gibbs admits that reaching an emotional peak two weeks in a row could be tough.
The question then becomes: Do the Redskins have any chance at all against the best team in football without it?
"I do think we were sky-high for the Eagles," Gibbs said. "One of the keys is if we can get back to that level again. That's what it'll take. I don't know if we can, and that's something our players will have to answer."
His players have tried. They point out that 17 of these Redskins have won Super Bowls, and that they understand about the challenges that come week to week in the playoffs. They say this game, one of four in the second round of the NFL's postseason tournament, is about upsetting the 49ers and getting to the NFC championship game, and that that's motivation enough. It's also about an extra $18,000.
"I don't think emotion's a concern," quarterback Mark Rypien said. "I think by the time we get on the field, we'll all understand what's going on. We're one step closer to our goal and these next few games become more and more important if we're fortunate enough to get that far."
The Redskins as expected activated backup quarterback Stan Humphries and released Gary Hogeboom, who was signed when Rypien got hurt in Week 3. Humphries has practiced only once since getting hurt and Gibbs is leaning toward having him on the two-man inactive squad for the 49ers.
The motivations are different for the 49ers, who are flirting with all sorts of history -- trying to become the first franchise to win five Super Bowls and the first to win three in a row. On a roll that has made their name synonymous with excellence, they've won 38 of their last 43 games, including six in a row in the playoffs.
At times they looked eminently beatable this season, but still finished with the NFL's best record (14-2) and were second in total offense and third in total defense. Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott have Hall of Fame plaques awaiting them, and the 49ers have perhaps a dozen or so others who could start for any team in football.
They had a first-round bye last week, but over the last two seasons have gone 6-0 in postseason play, winning each game by an average margin of 26 points. They've been so awesome that their biggest foes seem to be the expectations they've created, and that theme has been repeated several times down the stretch as they lost to the Rams and Saints (without Montana) and had close calls against the Vikings, Bengals and Giants.
It's hard to believe in an era when an 8-8 team gets to the playoffs that 49ers Coach George Seifert was actually asked this week if he not only had to beat the Redskins, but by a sizable margin.
Talk of their destiny, both past and future, has become so much a part of their interview sessions that Seifert took his team behind closed doors last week and talked about "Threepeat."
"We told ourselves that once that meeting was over that was the last we'd discuss it or be conscious of it," Seifert said. "The rest of the focus would be on our next opponent, and I think that's the case. We've positioned ourselves to do something that hasn't been done. That's great. Now, you'd better put it to heck out of your mind, or you won't even get past the first game. That's why I say the Super Bowl is this game against Washington. If we don't play well, it's over."
The 49ers have already beaten the Redskins once this season, that by 26-13 in Week 2 at Candlestick Park. The Redskins looked at those films again this week and a couple of things were evident.
One was that Montana was virtually unstoppable, passing for two touchdowns and 390 yards. The Redskins didn't sack him once and only got close enough to knock him down twice. Receivers Rice and John Taylor caught 14 passes, and when Montana was rushed, he always had someone to dump the ball to -- tight end Brent Jones caught five balls and running back Roger Craig four.
If Montana again has that kind of day, the Redskins can start planning their vacations. But he may not because the Redskins are better. Rookie linebacker Andre Collins and cornerback Martin Mayhew have had full seasons in the starting lineup and the Redskins defense has been fine-tuned along the way. It has allowed a touchdown or less in four of the last six games.
"We've just got to get some pressure on him," linebacker Wilber Marshall said. "You've got to make him feel uncomfortable back there."
But the biggest key to stopping Montana probably is his Redskins counterpart Rypien.
The Redskins were again reminded this week of how many things were open against the 49ers and how badly Rypien played. He missed four open receivers and fumbled a snap in the first quarter alone, and late in the game when the Redskins still had a chance to win, he again missed a handful of open receivers.
One key then is for him to play better.
"I've got to," Rypien said. "You go back and look at the films of that first game, and you really want to kick yourself in the tail."
Rypien has been through a lot since then. A week after the game, he injured a knee that sidelined him five weeks and after he returned he had some good games and some bad ones. But he was more than solid against the Eagles and seems to have gained the confidence of both his coaching staff and the players around him.
"He played very well," receiver Gary Clark said. "If Rip is our only worry, we won't have anything to worry about it. I wouldn't want anyone else in there."
The Redskins also gained only 87 rushing yards in that first game. But that was long before they re-established themselves as one of the best running teams in the NFC. The Redskins are 9-2 when they rush for 100 yards and they need 100 this week just to keep Montana and Rice off the field.
Even if Rypien had the best day of his life, the Redskins wouldn't want to get into a passing contest with the 49ers, who are simply the best ever.
The 49ers have had just the opposite problem. They ranked only 18th in rushing yards, and while they say Craig (439 yards) is healthy again for the first time in weeks, there have been indications the 49ers may junk the running game altogether.
"The thing we have to concern ourselves with is moving the ball and not how we do it," Seifert said. "We've gotten too concerned a couple of times with how we're doing it instead of just doing it. You've got to go out and do what you do best."