Detroit Lions kick returner Desmond Howard probably will miss Saturday's first-round playoff game because of a sore neck, Lions Coach Bobby Ross said yesterday.

Howard returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against the Redskins on Dec. 5 in Pontiac, Mich. Ross indicated that he expects safety Ty Talton to return kickoffs Saturday. Wide receiver Iheanyi Uwaezuoke will return punts.

Ross also said that Cory Schlesinger will start at running back.

Defensive tackle James Jones said he probably will play in Saturday's game. Jones was at the University of Wisconsin Hospital yesterday with his wife, who received a pancreas and kidney transplant.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be out there as long as she feels comfortable," he said. ". . . If there's any doubt, I'll stay."

Bailey Wearing a Splint

Rookie cornerback Champ Bailey practiced with a soft splint on his left hand to help protect the sprained thumb he suffered in the first quarter during Sunday's 21-10 victory over Miami. Bailey said the injury occurred when a ball hit the side of his thumb and "messed with some ligaments," but said it wouldn't affect him Saturday.

"I did the same thing in college--got hit by a ball--and still played both offense and defense," Bailey said.

The Redskins are counting on big plays from their defensive backs against Detroit. In their loss to the Lions, the Redskins held Detroit to just 31 rushing yards. But Detroit won the game on big passing plays--such as a 66-yarder to wide receiver Germane Crowell and a 23-yard touchdown strike to wideout Herman Moore.

"If we can take that away," Bailey said, "then we have a better chance of winning."

Patton Joins Jaguars

Few were more thrilled by news that former Redskin Joe Patton had signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars than Tre Johnson, Patton's former linemate. Patton, who was cut by the Redskins before the start of the season, was picked up to replace left tackle Tony Boselli--recently named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl--after Boselli's season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"I talked to him last night for about an hour," Johnson said. "He was cool. He's got a shot in the playoffs with a winning team--with a bye--for the first time in his career." . . .

Quarterback Brad Johnson, a Florida State alum, sported a burgundy FSU T-shirt yesterday in honor of the Seminoles' 46-29 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

"We are the number one team in the land, and it's well-deserved," Johnson said. "All the Seminoles talk a lot, but I'm very proud, very happy for the guys down there."