You remember the Atlanta Falcons. They brought that NBA bromide to the NFL -- turn on the game in the final two minutes; you'll see the contest decided every time.

Four times last season, including once against the Redskins, they won games in the final 10 seconds. Six times they won in the final two minutes.

You remember. Exciting finishes. Boring games. The Falcon offense isn't as boring anymore, not with quarterback Steve Bartkowski healthy and leading the NFC in passing. But the Falcons still play nail-biters.

All four of their games thus far have hinged on the final play, the Falcons coming up with a split, good enough to be tied for first place in the NFC West. So Sunday's game at Atlanta will pair two first-place teams, since the Redskins' 3-1 record ties them with Dallas and Philadelphia in the NFC East.

For the aficionado, the Falcons have never been boring under Leeman Bennett, in his third season as head coach. The way the Falcons play defense -- blitz, blitz, blitz by cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers -- is identical to the way Washington gambled successfully against the St. Louis Cardinals last Sunday.

"That's what's so interesting about watching them," said Kirk Mee, Redskin assistant whose Sunday job is scouting future opponents. "You're sitting there waiting for them to get hurt. They get hurt, then they make a big play. They get hurt, then they make another big play. And they don't get hurt that much. Bennett's done some job there."

The key to the Atlanta defense is a strong group of linebackers whose exploits have helped coin the phrase "The Grits Blitz." The starters are Robert Pennywell in the middle, Fulton Kuykendall on the left and Greg Brezina on the right.

However, in Atlanta, there is some concern that the defense is not playing as well as it did the past two seasons. This, most likely, is attributable to the fact that the offense is sharing more of the load.

Bennett experimented defensively during the exhibition season, trying to play what is known in the league as "straight," or not blitzing much, and it hurt them. That was evident in a 16-6 Redskin victory during the preseason.

Once the season started the Falcons reverted to what had been so successful for them.

They play both the 4-3 and 34 defenses, but they play the 4-3 with a twist few teams attempt. They overshift the line, with tackles Wilson Faumuina and Mike Zele lining up head on with the offensive center.

Like their namesakes, these Falcons are birds of prey. In fact, they are so aggressive that Bennett is worried about Washington quarterback Joe Theismann scrambling and countering that aggressiveness.

"We have to do a better job of containing Theismann than we have in the past," Bennett said yesterday at his weekly press conference.

Now that the Falcon defense seems set, Atlanta has spent the past two drafts shoring up its offense.

The difference is a healthy Bartkowski, a protective, maturing offensive line.But the bottom line is still the same -- close games. Only the scores are different. In 1977, the Falcons scored more than two touchdowns in only one game.

This season's scores are a 40-34 overtime win at New Orleans, a 14-10 triumph at Philadelphia, a 20-17 home loss to the Denver Broncos in overtime, and a 24-23 loss at Detroit in the only game the Falcons played poorly.

Bartkowski has two deep threats in wide receivers Wallace Francis and Alfred Jenkins. Unlike many teams that throw time after time to the backs, these wide receivers are Atlanta's leading pass catchers, with giddy averages. Francis has caught 19 passes for a 15.6 average; Jenkins 16 for a 19.9 average.

His gaudy average gain of 8.51 yards per pass attempted is the reason Bartkowksi ranks No. 1 in NFC passing, ahead of Dallas' Roger Staubach and Theismann. They rank 2-3-4 in the league, behind Buffalo's Joe Ferguson.

Bartkowski also has been helped by the emergence of rookie running back William Andrew of Auburn. He has gained 351 yards in four games.

Although Tim Mazzetti missed a 47-yard field goal on the -- you guessed it -- final play against Detroit, the Falcon kicking game is strong. John James has the best punting average in the NFC, 42.7 yards per kick; Dennis Pearson leads the NFC in punt returns, 13.9 yards per return.

For those who don't recall the finish of last year's Redskin game, the Falcons won, 20-17, in overtime. Mazzetti got a second chance to kick a field goal after Ron McDole was called offside on a call that many Redskins claimed was incorrect because center Paul Ryczek had lifted the ball before snapping it.

Washington has scored at least 17 points in four successive games, a feat last accomplished in 1975 . . . Lemar Parrish leads the NFC with four interceptions . . . Clarence Harmon was held out of drills with a bruised leg and defensive end Karl Lorch with a bruised foot. Pardee said he expects all 45 players to be available Sunday. Buddy Hardeman, reserve back who was a free agent, has the team's longest run from scrimmage (22 yards), longest pass reception (41), longest kickoff return (30), and longest punt return (52) . . . Fullback John Riggins moved past Steve Van Buren and Larry Brown into 15th place on the all-time NFL rushing list with 5,889 yards.