One day after Cornelius Griffin made an inspirational return to the field, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs expected to be without his other starting defensive tackle, Joe Salave'a, this week in St. Louis, and quite possibly beyond.

An MRI exam yesterday revealed that Salave'a has a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine, said that the official listing for Salave'a for Sunday is doubtful.

Salave'a had been hobbled with plantar fasciitis in his left foot since injuring himself on Oct. 16 at Kansas City. He started Sunday against the San Diego Chargers but came out of the game in the first half. Salave'a walked gingerly around the Redskins' locker room yesterday wearing his left sneaker untied.

"I was praying driving home last night thinking this thing has been at my doorstep," he said. "I don't know if it finally caught up with me after the last four or five weeks, but its something I really have to face and deal with. I have to concur with those guys and what the MRI reads and make the best judgment from there."

Despite injuring himself more than a month ago and being on the injury report virtually each week, Salave'a has not missed a game with the injury. Now, it appeared to be almost inevitable that he won't be around for the first time this season.

On Monday, Gibbs praised Salave'a's toughness, while bracing for another extended injury.

"Joe is one of the toughest guys and I don't think many guys would be out there playing, but I think he felt another pop and if I had to guess it would take us a little while before we can get him back," Gibbs said.

As for Griffin, who had missed the previous three games because of a hip flexor injury, Tyer said he came out of the game none the worse for wear.

Royal Treatment

In a show of support, Gibbs stood by tight end Robert Royal yesterday a day after Royal dropped three passes, two of them in the fourth quarter.

"We think a lot of Robert. He's one of our leaders, and I think it could have happened to anybody," Gibbs said. "When you play up here, you can have bad things happen to you. Robert's a first-class person and football player, so hopefully what he can do is put this behind him, and I think he will."

Gibbs said Royal would not lose his starting position to Robert Johnson, who caught one pass for 14 yards on Sunday.

"I think we're kind of set. Robert Johnson did come into the game and he's taking on more of a role now that Mike [Sellers ] is hurt," Gibbs said. "I think certainly Robert Johnson is someone we like and we want to up his play, but Robert Royal is our starter and we like Robert."

Sellers, who missed Sunday's game with a sore back and ribs after being illegally hit by Oakland Raiders linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba on punt coverage, says he is ready to play against the Rams.

Sellers has been an important element of the Redskins' offense around the goal line, evidenced by his six touchdowns, and is a key member of the special teams unit.

"I'm ready to play," Sellers said, adding that last week he felt as if he had been hit by a Mack truck. "I just have to convince them and wait for them to clear me. I don't think it will be an issue. I'm ready to go out there."

As for Ekejiuba, he was not fined by the NFL for the hit on Sellers. "It doesn't matter. I'll see him again," Sellers said. . . .

Wide receiver James Thrash will miss his third straight game with a pulled hamstring.