Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham had just completed a pass on the first play of what ended up as a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive. Except it almost wasn't a game-winning drive. On the second play, Washington Redskins outside linebacker Lamont Hollinquest stuck out his big left paw, swatted the ball and -- couldn't quite make the interception.

The ball fell to RFK Stadium's grass, the Eagles' drive survived and the Redskins eventually lost, 31-29. It was one of many plays at critical junctures of games this season that tilted back and forth before settling in a way favorable to the opposition. It's some of why the Redskins are 2-7.

"If I get that interception, we stop that drive, get the ball and the game is over," Hollinquest said yesterday. "I thought about it all night. Norv told me, 'Don't put your head down. We've still got games to play and you will make more good plays.' "

Norv is Coach Norv Turner. He knows that his team, while not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, has to start working for next season. Turner was disappointed that plays weren't made, but he's hopeful that young players, such as Hollinquest, will learn.

"The way we break it down, most of those plays involved first- or second-year players," Turner said. "That is an emphasis we're going to have throughout the remainder of this season. We want them to understand they are responsible. We want them to understand that when they are out there, they are one of the 11 on the field and every guy has got to do his job. It just doesn't happen by showing up. It's got to start in practice on Wednesday."

Outside linebacker Monte Coleman has been covering tight ends or running backs for many of his 16 seasons. He will be 37 years old Friday. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Hollinquest is in his second season and he turned 24 eight days ago. Do the math, including the 2-7 record, and it's easier to understand why Hollinquest probably will play more as the season continues.

Coleman was ahead of Hollinquest on the original depth chart, and if the Redskins were 7-2 and fighting for a playoff spot, maybe he would stay there. But Coleman also slightly pulled his left hamstring against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 16. He played during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts the following week before the hamstring acted up. Hollinquest went in and made a fourth-quarter interception.

Against the Eagles on Sunday, Coleman played only on special teams, while Hollinquest played on special teams, as usual, and entered the game in passing situations from beginning to end. Coleman's injury is a factor, but so is the current season and ones in the future. Coleman probably will get some of his playing time back when healthy, but not all that he was getting at the beginning of the season.

"Monte can't play forever," linebackers coach Mike Haluchak said. "Lamont, we think, is a talented young player that can make some plays. He's done an excellent job on special teams. The best thing he does is pass coverage. We're trying to find ways to get him in the ballgame."

Coleman and Hollinquest both were safeties in college, both were picked late in the draft and both initially made the Redskins because they are good special teams players. While Coleman grew up in rural Arkansas, Hollinquest was raised in Downey, Calif., outside of Los Angeles. His mother, Linda, who now lives in Arizona, was a nurse at USC Medical Center. His father, John, kept the boilers going and the lights lit at another area hospital. His father recently had a mild stroke, but now apparently is doing better, with once-slurred speech returning to normal.

"It scared me," Hollinquest said. "I'm 3,000 miles away and you don't know what's happening."

After an excellent junior season at Pius X High School, Hollinquest broke his ankle in the first game of his senior season. Still, he said he chose Southern California over Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma.

"He's the same reckless, crazy-on-the-field type of guy who is ready to play, ready to hit and do what it takes," said Redskins running back Ricky Ervins, who left USC two years before Hollinquest did.

One of the things Redskins coaches love is Hollinquest's enthusiasm, not only in games, but in practice. Their only concern is overexuberance that could lead to penalties.

One issue for the future is whether Hollinquest can become more involved in the defense. As Coleman showed, a linebacker can make a career out of mostly covering running backs, though both have had to cover wide receivers at times. But Coleman always wanted to play every down. Hollinquest is the same way.

The problem there is experience. Hollinquest went to USC as a strong safety and played parts of two seasons in the secondary. (The Redskins might need a big strong safety in the future, but Hollinquest's 4.8-second speed in the 40-yard dash eliminates him from consideration.) His 1990 season was spent getting his academic life in order at Santa Monica (Calif.) Junior College. When he returned to USC as a junior, he was switched to outside linebacker. But later there was disharmony with coaches, and Hollinquest said he started only one game as a senior.

The Redskins would like to find out if they can rely on Hollinquest on first- and second-down situations, but those experiments will come later, perhaps next season. Relative to other linebackers, he has spent very little time fending off tight ends and other blockers before grabbing ball carriers.

"I think I can be a three-down linebacker," Hollinquest said. "It's a matter of time, when I can get in there and get a chance. ... When the time comes, I think I'll be ready."