KEEN OBSERVERS OF THE

Washington Redskins may have noticed by now that the team is especially tough in the fourth quarter. Since Jay Schroeder took over at quarterback in 1985, the Redskins have trailed going into the last quarter 15 times and have come from behind to win 9 of the games. Through the first 13 games of '87, the Redskins outscored their opponents 67-45 in the final quarter. What's their secret? Is it inspirational, perspirational or pharmaceutical?

Perhaps it's none of the above. It could be because their practice field at Redskin Park is only 90 yards long. Think of the wear and tear on churning legs and passing arms that they avoid.

The Bermuda grass field was a regulation 100 yards until, in the late '70s, a wide receiver named Danny (Lightning) Buggs had a brush with disaster. Buggs caught a pass over his shoulder in the corner of the end zone nearest to the Redskins' office building and kept right on going. Out of the end zone. Over George Allen's slick Tartan running track. Over an asphalt sidewalk. And right into a gas meter attached to a red brick wall. Face first.

Buggs was shaken, but unhurt. The Redskins were horrified. Equipment men immediately were dispatched to place blocking-dummy padding on the wall. That worked for a while. Then, when Jack Pardee became coach, he decided to make the 10-yard line the goal line to give his receivers more room to roam beyond the end zone.

Finally, equipment men John Jenkins and Ed Allen supervised as nine football players -- officially on the injured reserve list but healthy enough to pick up hundreds of pounds of metal -- moved the goal post 10 yards upfield and bolted it into the ground.

What had been created was a field without a 50-yard line. This briefly caused problems for kicker Mark Moseley, who suddenly was booming everything deep into the end zone, until he moved his kickoff tee back. Otherwise, the 10 yards were not missed.

"We only work on about 50 yards anyway," says coach Joe Gibbs. Most attention at practice is placed on action at the line of scrimmage and 10 to 20 yards downfield.

But if it rains hard, or if Washington is going to play on artificial turf the next Sunday, danger still lurks for Redskin receivers. Right next door to the 90-yard grass field lies a 100-yard artificial-turf field. Its end zone sits dangerously close to the other end of the building.

Thankfully, there are no gas meters over there. But there is something that is even more menacing to a receiver out of control at full speed.

A Coke machine.