The Washington Redskins placed running back Stephen Davis on their inactive list for tonight's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Team officials said they expect Davis's sprained left ankle to be healed sufficiently for him to play in the Redskins' regular season finale Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Skip Hicks started at tailback in Davis's place tonight and gained 48 yards on 13 carries.

Davis hurt his ankle in last Sunday's loss at Indianapolis. The Redskins had some slim hopes last week that he would play tonight. But Davis was unable to practice all week, and the Redskins ruled out the possibility of him playing in the game by making him inactive.

The Redskins already had clinched an NFC playoff berth before they took the field at 3Com Park tonight, with losses by the Dallas Cowboys on Friday and the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers earlier today. But that didn't factor into the team's decision regarding Davis. Redskins officials already had decided to put Davis on the inactive list before the Packers' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was completed.

The Redskins were hoping they could beat the 49ers, whose defense has been more vulnerable to the pass than the run this season, without Davis, then have Davis healthy again for the Dolphins game and the playoffs. Davis has rushed for a club-record 1,405 yards this season and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team last week. He lost the NFL rushing lead today to Indianapolis's Edgerrin James.

The Rice Watch

The Redskins might be interested in wide receiver Jerry Rice if he is released by the 49ers during the offseason, sources close to the situation said today.

Tonight's contest might have been Rice's final home game with the 49ers. He has said he wants to be back with the team next season. But Bill Walsh, the 49ers' vice president and general manager, has said the club might not be able to bring back Rice and quarterback Steve Young because of salary cap restrictions.

If Rice becomes available, the Redskins apparently would give serious consideration to pursuing him. He is not the dominant player that he once was, but he has remained productive this season. He had five catches in tonight's game to increase his team-leading total to 61 receptions, and has five touchdown catches this season, although he was averaging only 11.3 yards per catch.

The Redskins have been trying since last offseason to add to their wide receiver corps. They lured Irving Fryar out of retirement during training camp but continued to pursue--unsuccessfully--a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for Joey Galloway.

Wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell have been productive this season, but Redskins officials seemingly would like to bolster the team's depth at the position next season. They might try to complete an offseason trade for Galloway. They probably will consider selecting Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick in the college draft in April, although Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington seems most likely to be the Redskins' top pick.

Team owner Daniel M. Snyder has invited Fryar to return next season, and Fryar has said he will consider postponing his retirement again. . . .

Brian Mitchell's 37-yard return on the opening kickoff tonight enabled him to pass Mel Gray as the NFL's all-time leader in combined kickoff and punt return yards.