The best that can be said of the Redskins yesterday is that they played well enough to be criticized.

For more than 80 percent of a sultry afternoon, Washington had the team that made it to the AFC championship game last season -- the Houston Campbells -- on the ropes. Confused and erratic, with a quarterback you might not trust to pass the salt under pressure.

Four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Redskins led by eight points -- and what non-Texan had anything like that in mind when he entered RFK Stadium?

And then came as exasperating a nine minutes as anyone could imagine. With the special teams, coach stationed way up in the press box, for reasons that probably made sense before the game, the special teams became confused enough to give Houston a 41-yard break on a punt.

Then Jack Pardee made a decision that seemed strange to nonfootball minds at the time -- and seems even more so now. He chose to give Houston another chance at a first down -- third-and-20 from the Redskin 39-yard line -- instead of challenging a kicker whose weakness is long field goals to try a long field goal.

Toni Fritsch is wonderfully consistent. But Dallas let him go, because his range was not exceptional. Just as Pardee was deciding to take the holding penalty instead of making Fritsch kick a 46-yard field goal, his own kicker, Mark Moseley, was trying to offer a dissenting opinion.

"I would put money against him," Moseley said. "I don't think he's that strong a kicker. He presses from back there. I was trying to talk to Joe Walton (the Redskin offensive coordinator), trying to get him to make him kick it."

So Moseley was joining most everyone else in yelling: "No, no, no." And Pardee admitted later that if somebody had told him before the game that he would be forced to make such a decision he would have said, without hesitation: "Make him kick."

"But then he'd earlier made one from a yard longer (in truth it was the same distance, but the point is made)," PARDEE said. "And I knew they had to get two scores to beat us (it was 17-19 at the time), so why give up one of them?

The Redskins defense could have taken the burden off Pardee by making the tackle professionals are supposed to make on Billy (White Shoes) Johnson on the next play. Instead of pinning him for less than a 10-yard gain, they allowed him to escape for a 29-yard gain.

Still, all the Oilers mustered on the drive was a field goal, a 26-yarder, cutting the Redskins lead to 27-22.

Then John Riggins, who played exceptionally well, fumbled and the Oilers recovered and scored the go-ahead points. Then Jean Fugett, who played even better, was caught in motion and the Oilers were assured victory.

Even Mosely cannot readonably be expected to kick a 70-yard field goal, with the Oilers daring him to offer up his most heroic effort by not rushing at all.

Fugett allowed Houston brains to shake off the coaching goat horns, for if Moseley had been able to kick from 55 yards, certainly within his range, and made it on the final play Bum would have been a bum.

When Joe Theismann's fourth-down pass was intercepted and returned 20 yards to the Washington 18, Houston had possession with 82 seconds left. They had arguably the best runner since Jim Brown in the backfield and chose not to exploit him.

Simply put, the Redskins had one chance to overcome that two-point deficit and the Oilers gave it to them. They dawdled enough to give Washington a possession it never should have had.

If the Oilers had allowed Campbell to run two pitches, instead of having quarterback Dan Pastorini assume the fetal position after two straight snaps, the Redskins would not have gotten the ball with 26 seconds remaining.

And if Phillips had allowed Fritsch to try a 40-yard field goal on fourth down -- and he had been successful -- all of Houston would have been joyful instead of satisfied. The spread was four points.

Perhaps Bum was telling us something about his kicker, Jack.

The lessons Pardee and the Redskins may have learned yesterday should include allowing the offense to be more bold in the future. The offensive line played well and Theismann and the runners mustered a respectable number of yards.

There were reasons the team was so conservative early, ones that might enable it to be riskier the next few weeks.

"You get in third-and-six situations and if everybody expects you to pass you can't pass," Fugett said. "If you run now and then -- and make it -- teams aren't so sure of themselves.

"For instance, on the (third-and-six) sweep Benny (Malone) got that first down on. The man I blocked was the strong safety, instead of a linebacker, because they anticipated pass. It was an easier block.

"You have to establish that sort of (run-on-passing-down) possibility the first game of the season. I think we did."

To the Redskins' dismay, they lost a game yesterday they could have won, if not should have won. To their credit, they may have realized they belong on the same field as teams with playoff talent.

"We can't start any downhill slides," said Ken Houston, very likely the best Redskin on the field yesterday and who remembers the Redskins are on a six-game regular-season losing streak. "We've got to win the ones we have to win."

One of those is next Sunday in Detroit.