Because the Redskins can count, as Joe Theismann put it, "at least to four," they are fully aware that Sunday is no time to be thinking about their Dallas triumph seven days ago.
Any temptation to relax after the emotional victory was eliminated Thursday when both Dallas and Chicago lost to give Washington's playoff drive a boost.
The Redskins can take advantage of those Thanksgiving blessings by beating the New York Giants before a screaming capacity crowd in the Meadowlands. Oddsmakers rate the Redskins 2-point favorites.
"It wouldn't be too smart to toss away what others have helped give us," a subdued Theismann said today before the Redskins flew to New Jersey for the 1 p.m. contest (WDMV-TV-9).
For Theismann, this is a particularly meaningful game.Besides wanting to keep Washington in at least a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the NFC East, he would like to break a personal jinx. The Redskins are 0-3 in Giants Stadium and he has never won a pro game in his home state, a situation he would like very much to correct.
Theismann finally has established himself as a solid, dependable, mature NFL player after years of frustration. He has helped guide his underrated team into a first-place tie and he has accumulated increasing praise around the league for his performances.
New York, however, looms as a formidable barrier for theismann and his teammates as they start the final four games of this suprising regular season.
Since installing rookie Phil Simms at quarterback and switching to a 3-4 defensive alignment, New York has become respectable. Until being thumped last week by Tampa Bay, the Giants had won five of six, their only loss coming on a last-second Dallas field goal.
New York has plenty of incentive to play well. The Giants remember the 27-0 Monday night thrashing administered by Washington the third game of the season, when some of the New York players accused Redskin running back Benny Malone of biting in pileups.
"They've just become a solid football team," Coach Jack Pardee said. "Simms has helped and they've matured.
"We realize they are good. We can't afford to play up-and-down football against anyone. I think we realize that. We can't let down. We have to play to the best of our ability every week."
The Redskin effort against Dallas was the best of the season, backing up Pardee's claim that his mixture of young and old players has not yet reached its potential, even this late in the schedule.
When Pardee and his athletes look at these last four games -- and especially Sunday's confrontation with the Giants -- they realize what is at stake.
A win Sunday would keep them in the first-place tie while running their record to 9-4. The next two weeks they play at home against poor teams, Green Bay (4-8) and Cincinnati (2-10), before closing out at Dallas (8-5). An 11-4 mark entering that Cowboy game would wrap up a playoff spot and might insure a division title.
"But that's all speculation," Pardee said. "None of this does us any good until we take care of our own business. We've got to go out now and win on the field. Nobody is going to hand us anything."
Pardee would like another rousing game from his defense. His film and statistical sutdies have shown that unless the Giants are forced into offensive errors, they don't lose. And he also knows that his team leads the NFL in takeaway-giveaway ratio.
"If they don't give it up, they're hard to beat," Pardee said, pointing out that Karl Lorch returned an interception for a touchdown in the first game. "we can't make offensive mistakes and then we have to turn it around and force some from them.
"They remain a tough defensive club. It's tough to get the ball and make long marches on them. And now they are playing better as a team both offensively and defensively."
The Redskin defense will try to force mistakes by playing some "games" with Simms, attempting to make already complex coverages even more difficult to pick up.
"He's a rookie and he's green," said Doc Urich, defensive coordinator. "He's got a lot of athletic ability, but all youngsters can be impatient and confused at times.
"We want to put some pressure on him. We want to force them into passing situtions. He likes to run and we have to watch out for that tendency. He doesn't always stand back there and wait for things to develop.
To guard against Simm's scrambling, linebacker Dallas Hickman most likely will be employed at times as a down lineman, an effective tactic against Dallas. But the Redskins admit their front four must mount a consistent pass rush without the aid of blitzes if the defensive is to be truly effective.
Simms is coming off his poorest game. Although he completed 17 of 33 passes for 180 yards against Tampa Bay, he also was sacked five times, intercepted twice and he lost a fumble. Until then, he had thrown a scoring pass in each of the last five games.
The Bucs also stymied New York's rushing game, holding the Giants to 95 yards. Old Redskin nemesis Doug Kotar is the club's leading rusher with 478 yards, while Billy Taylor has 368. Simms has carried 21 times for 140 yards.
"He can keep drives going with his running ability," Pardee said. "He's not afraid to tuck it and take off. It can mean the difference in 10 or 12 more possessions a game."
Another rookie, Earnest Gray from Memphis State, has emerged as a long-range threat with 24 catches and a 20.3 average. The other starting wide receiver, Johnny Perkins, has a sore knee and may be replaced by Jimmy Robinson.
Coach Ray Perkins also has improved his offensive line, which was horrid when the Giants lost to Washington in RFK Stadium.
Theismann will be throwing against a stingy Giant defense, which has exceptional ability among its front seven players. But the Redskins think they can be successful against the Giants secondary.
Inside linebacker Harry Carson is rated by Pardee as the premier player at his position in the league. Since gaining a starting spot, Dan Lloyd has sparkled next to Carson. Outside backers Bad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley are Pro Bowl quality players.
"Toss in lineman like John Mendenhall, Gary Jeter and George Martin and that's a pretty good bunch of players," Pardee said.
Theismann says the 3-4 defense "doesn't change things that much. We've seen a lot of 3-4 this year and, besides, their players are the same. They always are tough on us."
Pardee says the Redskins are in their best physical shape of the season. Why have they avoided injuries? "Just lucky, I guess," he said . . . There is a 40 percent chance of rain at game time, with strong winds expected . . . Perkins says the Giants are trying to be spoilers the rest of the season while preparing for next year.