At 2 a.m. yesterday, Americans turned their clocks back. Twelve hours later, the National Football League tried to do the same thing.

Certainly the setting was everything one could want: a sun-splashed fall afternoon and, here in Washington, the home team sitting comfortably in first place in the National conference's Eastern Division. Robert F. Kennedy Stadium was nearly full. Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the home team celebrating his 75th birthday, had his binoculars around his neck. The New York Jets were booed as they were introduced. Even the perennial "Baseball in DC" sign was in place.

When it was over, when the Washington Redskins had stormed back in the last 10 minutes for a 17-16 victory, the 53,497 fans celebrated along with their team just as they have done on so many fall Sundays.

Yet, it wasn't the same.

Four weeks of angst, three weeks of replacement football and a season's worth of taint by the 24-day players strike could not be wiped out just because the sun was shining and Dexter Manley was back in his Redskins uniform exhorting the crowd.

The crowd's response when the Redskins initially came trotting out onto the field was apathy. No cheers. No boos. This was a wait-and-see day. When Reggie Branch began the game by shoestring-tackling the Jets' Bobby Humphery at the 10-yard line on the opening kickoff, they cheered. But when Washington's first drive stalled quickly, the boos began. The mood of the crowd seemed to sway back and forth, minute to minute, depending on the momentary success or failure of the home team.

Generally, the crowd was in a sour mood, comparable perhaps to someone out on the town looking for a fight. At halftime, some fans by the concession stands were heard complaining about the veterans' salaries and how they missed the enthusiasm of the replacement players.

"I'm certainly not going to watch any pro football for a while," said Dave Keller, a NASA contractor from Lanham. "I feel dumped on by this whole thing. I'm peeved at both sides."

Keller was parading in front of the stadium before kickoff carrying a homemade sign that read, "Owners: Now go out and BUY new fans," on one side and, "NFL Rosters 85, fans interest zero," on the other. He said he planned to leave the stadium area at kickoff, go home and "not watch on television."

"I'll find something else to do," he said. "This was my entertainment and they took it away from me. Is the season tainted? Certainly. I think it would be amusing if the Redskins were in a second tainted Super Bowl." (The Redskins won Super Bowl XVII, after the previous players' strike, in 1982.)

"Actually, I kind of like the scabs," said Gary Hendricks of Fairfax. "I was glad to see them get a chance and glad to see them play well. I was for the owners."

If the Redskins had come out and blown out the Jets, no doubt all would have been forgiven. But, unlike most Sundays, the fans had to be won over.

"We expected it," said Redskins player representative Neal Olkewicz. "During the week we talked about the fact that we would have to win today to put it behind us."

Some players, like Olkewicz, were philosophical. Others admitted the boos hurt.

"It was hard to take," said tight end Clint Didier. "It was just too soon after the strike. The replacements won three games and we come in and start losing our first home game. I think they reacted out of bitter desperation. Usually they have confidence that we'll come back when we're behind. Today, they didn't."

It looked pretty desperate when the Jets led, 16-7, in the fourth quarter. By that stage, the fans had graduated from booing to chants of, "We want Doug," a cry for backup quarterback Doug Williams, and, "We want the scabs," a request for the replacement players (just one, reserve tight end Craig McEwen, was in uniform.)

Sitting in his living room in Gary, Ind., Ted Karras, a teammate of McEwen until six days ago, couldn't hear the boos, but he was pulling for the players who were hearing them.

"The game isn't on out here," he said by telephone. "What's going on? I'm definitely still rooting for the Redskins. I'd like them to go all the way -- this year at least."

Karras, who was cut last week along with most of his fellow 3-0 replacements, didn't even know the fate of his former teammates.

"Craig's in uniform?" he said. "That's great for him.

"I'd rather be here watching and not in the stadium. I really don't want to see it in person."

For three quarters, some of the Redskins on the field might have had mixed feelings about their situation. Quarterback Jay Schroeder was rusty, but he wasn't alone.

"I booed them, sure I did," said Scott Schaefer of Warrenton. "I booed because I was sick of the strike."

The strike seemed all but forgotten in the stands after Ali Haji-Sheikh's winning field goal with 54 seconds left. Cooke, who went down to the locker room after two of the three replacement games to shake hands, did his glad-handing in his box yesterday.

The person who seemed to want to forget the strike most was Coach Joe Gibbs. "Our fans got us going in the fourth quarter," he said. "When our fans get going there's no place like RFK. "

In truth, the players got going and the fans responded. Before Kelvin Bryant's 39-yard catch and run turned the Washington offense around, the stadium had been filled with boos and antiplayer chants. After his paean to the fans, Gibbs was asked what he thought about the booing.

"Oh, I really don't pay any attention . . ." he said.

The World Series ended last night, which is a time for the NFL to get serious. But no matter how many times the band played "Hail to the Redskins," it was not business as usual at RFK Stadium. Something had been lost, if only for one Sunday.

"I'm sure I'll come back some day," said the sign-carrying Keller as he prepared to go home and do something other than watch pro football. "I'm just not sure when."

Special correspondent Steve Berkowitz contributed to this story.