The offensive players who had played so offensively were startled, not about what Jack Pardee was scolding them for but that he actually was yelling at all. Quiet and nearly always positive, he saw the Redskins' playoff cup half-empty at halftime yesterday -- and leaking badly.

"We didn't have to be told we'd been naughty boys," said John Riggins. "We all anticipated it. But then we'd expected it before and nothing had happened. In that sense, yeah, I was surprised. It was his intensity, the way he appeared more than what he said.

"Here you have an easygoing man who's always encouraging finally drawing the line. There was a certain amount of anger, a certain amount of disappointment. Last year in certain situations he was always positive.

"What he said had to be said. In times gone by, he's been a bit too easy at times like this."

Pardee's passion was fierce, his words earthy and sharp. No Packer had hit them harder. It was not time for inspiration so much as for what Pardee's former coach, the legendary Bear, eloquently calls "a gut check." Who wants to win and how badly.

This was the first time Pardee had been so loudly basic. Mostly, he simply fires an incompetent rather than flog him publicly. When he finished yesterday, Pardee stormed through the doors that separate the offensive and defensive teams' meeting rooms.

"And I haven't seen us play a half like the second half, either," Pardee said when the Redskins had overcome a 14-point deficit and whipped the Packers by 17. "It was a pretty sight."

He was speaking of the results rather than the raving itself.

When Pardee finished, offensive coordinator Joe Walton continued the verbal assault. He screamed that he wanted 24 points the second half and would settle for absolutely no fewer than 21.

They scored 31.

"We got hungry," said Bob Kuziel. "It looked like for awhile there we were afraid to be successful. I was as worried as all the fans and coaches (at halftime). Fortunately, we all realized what was at stake."

Or did they?

it may come as a surprise to Vince Lombardi and some others not deeply involved in the NFL the last few years, but winning no longer is everything. iOr even the only thing. At this time of the season, the important matter is beating everyone as badly as possible.

With two wild-card positions at stake in addition to the possibility of winning the NFC East championship, the point differential between what the Redskins score and what they allow is more significant than many Redskins realize.

Consider this scenario: the Bears win their final two games and the Redskins beat Cincinnati and fall to Dallas. They would be tied with Chicago for a wild-card position, with 10 victories each.

The first tie breaker would not apply, because the teams do not play each other. They would remain tied under the second condition, with 8-4 conference records. Points for and against for the season -- each team's net -- applies next. And the Redskins are 20 ahead of the Bears at the moment.

Pardee, the old softie, chose to run out the clock at the end instead of trying for another touchdown or at least a field goal. He had gone out of his way to kick a last-second field goal against Dallas, the playoff tie breaker as the excuse.

Was Pardee Starr gazing?

"In my own mind," Pardee said later, "I didn't think it was important. It might turn out to be."

That does involve a negative presumption -- that the Redskins cannot beat the Cowboys in Dallas. Or that the Bears are not capable of losing to the Packers in Green Bay or to the Cards at home.

It also assumes Washington can beat a bad team -- the Bengals this week -- at home. For the first half yesterday, that seemed in considerable doubt. Redskin management was pacing in its box; the fans were silent.

Down 21-7, the Redskins and the redskinned fans were wondering if snapper Ted Fritsch had not been too thoughtful marketing those small towels. What Fritsch had in mind was a spirit-provoking symbol, but fans noted they also were just the right size for crying.

That was before Pardee jolted them from their lethargy.

"The thing I'm happy about," Kuziel said, "is that we're improving each week. We've actually played better the second half of the season than the first, but we've played better teams."

The first half against the Packers the Redskins were betrayed by all their strong areas. Theismann threw an interception when the Pack was ready to fold; the pass defense surrendered two long touchdowns.

Later, Pardee suggested the team had been thinking too much.

"There'd been some problems with one of their defensive techniques," he said. "We were passing one (rusher) off from blocker to blocker. What all this amounts to is one guy creating a hole and another guy running through it.

"You don't have to be smarter than that."