It is a Redskin tradition dating back to the days of Sonny Jurgensen, when the rotund redhead would orchestrate some of the most effective two-minute offenses that a football purist ever could wish to behold.

Billy Kilmer, his whiskey face puffed with emotion, continued in the Jurgensen mold.Kilmer's passes would wobble and float but somehow he would pull the Redskins to one last-ditch triumph after another.

And now Joe Theismann is fast becoming a master of the final 120 seconds. The Redskins may have their offensive problems for the first 58 minutes, but give them the ball with a victory on the line and Theismann in control and even the Pittsburgh Steelers probably aren't any more dangerous.

Washington's two-minute offense already has pulled out three of the team's seven wins this season. Theismann also had the Redskins in game-winning field goal range against Houston in the opener before a long gain was nullified by a penalty.

"It's just part of Redskin football," Coach Jack Pardee said. "We scratch and claw and take what they give us and that means winning it at the end if we have to.

"Those close finishes are becoming typical Redskin games, but I will take a win any way we can get one."

Ironically, Washington's offense during those final two minutes may be the least complex part of its overall game plan. Because of time limitations, Theismann selects from only a handful of passing plays and a couple of running possibilities designed to move the ball quickly against an opposition defense stacked to prevent long scoring plays.

"We change up a little from week to week," said the offensive coordinator, Joe Walton. "We might add a play or refine another. But there are just so many things you can do. We go over and over our choices and practice them every week until we have them down as smoothly as possible."

The Redskins' two-minute offense succeeds for three reasons: Theismann's increased maturity, the type of passes thrown and Mark Moseley's extended range on field goals.

Theismann's increased poise and confidence this season have enabled him to better handle the pressures of a two-minute drill.

"Joe gets back quickly and he reads defenses quickly and he releases quickly," Walton said. "You need those things from your quarterback. You haven't got enough time to sit back and let a lot of things develop. That luxury has been eliminated.

"Joe is reading defenses better and better. He goes to the right guy almost all the time in this offense. If he isn't right, you aren't going to move the ball at all."

Walton's play repertoire for his two-minute orchestration consists mainly of short, quick-forming patterns that get the ball to the receiver as soon as possible.

"This is a big key," Walton siad. "Teams usually are in a prevent defense in the last two minutes, which means they are in a zone.

"We want to get to the seams of the zone. If you hit the seam quickly enough on a short pass, you can turn it into a long play. The running back or the tight end has a chance to make something out of very little.

"If you wait for a long pattern to form, it will take too long and the linebackers will be able to react to the short patterns. Usually, teams will doubleteam your wide receivers, so we want to go inside that coverage. But if they double on our backs or tight end, we'll go to the wide receivers. But usually they concentrate on your wide receivers."

So it is no accident that running back Clarence Harmon and tight end Don Warren have been in the midst of most of Washington's successful two-minute drives this season.

But Theismann's short tosses really aren't that much of a change from his normal passing strategy. The Redskins thrive on medium-range passes that give the receivers plenty of practice running quick patterns.

Because Moseley is dangerous from 50 yards in and feels he can hit from as far as 64 yards, Washington believes it is in especially good shape if it needs only a field goal to win a game.

"Mark's range shortens the field considerably," Theismann said. "I have so much faith in him that I only need to get it to the 25 or 30 and he'll make it. It takes some of the pressure off the offense."

Added Pardee: "It's when we have to go for touchdowns that worries me. It makes your job so much harder. They can give you short stuff all day and still keep you out of the end zone. But when we need a field goal, teams change their thinking.When we got into field goal range against St. Louis, they started safety blitzing to try to knock us back."

Ideally, the Redskins want to start their two-minute drill with all three of their timeouts left.

"If we have all of our timeouts then we don't want to use one until the clock is down to 40 or 35 seconds," said Pardee. "Until then, you can stop the clock with a pass out of bounds. You want to preserve your timeouts."

A full complement of timeouts also allows an occasional running play to be called. If a draw, for example, does not work, the clock can be stopped.

"The other team also knows that once you have no timeouts and are short on downs, the only thing you can do to stop the clock is run sideline patterns," Walton said. "Then they will let you have the middle and shut off the sides. I want to be able to go anywhere."

Theismann, who does his own play selection in the two-minute offense, calls two plays in the first huddle. The center snap is always on the first sound and no matter what the result of the first play the offensive unit is coached to race to the line of scrimmage to save those precious seconds.

"You have to have offensive line hold up and give your quarterback good protection," Walton said. "You can't afford a sack. That's why you also throw short. And why Joe will roll out. That's the way to stay away from sacks."

The Redskin receivers also have shown an ability to improvise on broken plays. Harmon's winning catch against Cleveland came after Theismann had had a retreat briefly from the pocket. And as Theismann scrambled Sunday, Harmon changed his path slightly against the Cardinals before pulling in the pass for a 35-yard gain.

"We work on following what Joe does," said Harmon. "If he is in trouble, we respond by trying to get free and move to the side where he is."

What it boils down to, according to Walton, is confidence. The Redskins now believe that, with two minutes to go, they can score.

"From a coaching standpoint, it sometimes gets a little hairy on the sidelines," Walton said with a laugh. "But they seem to be calm about the whole thing. You've got to hand it to them. When they've had to they've scored. I can't ask more than that."

Tackle Terry Hermeling has a dislocated right elbow but Pardee said he is expected to be ready for Sunday's game . . . The Redskins have forced 35 turnovers this season, three more than all of last season . . . Lemar Parrish, who has nine interceptions, already has passed his previous season's best of seven. His is the highest Redskin total since Paul Krause picked off 12 in 1964 . . . Moseley became only the second Redskin to score 500 points in his career when he hit for 12 points against the Cardinals. The team record-holder is Charley Taylor, with 540 . . . John Riggins, with 6,376 career rushing yards, is 11th on the all-time NFL list.