The blocked punt, the long kickoff or punt return, the fumble recovery or the finessed punt downed within spitting distance of the goal line -- those were the big plays the Redskins' special teams once contributed so often.
Those also were the plays conspicuously missing in the preseason and in Washington's 17-3 opening game loss to Dallas Monday night.
"I guess because the offense and defense were flat, so were we," said special teams member Ray Waddy. "Each time we go out, we're looking for that one play to turn things around. We just didn't get it against Dallas. They manhandled us and we sat back and watched.
"Potentially, we have a very good group," said Waddy usually one of the first players downfield covering kicks. "We feel it's up to us to set the tempo in the game. Against Dallas, we were only a block or two away from scoring on a couple of returns. But one man can make the difference."
With the exception of a 53-yard kick-off return by Ike Forte and a 19-yard punt runback by Mike Nelms, the Washington special teams didn't make much of an impact.
Several missed blocks, poor blocking by the field goal team and a 26-yard average on Mike Connell's four punts had many of the frustrated Redskins and their fans whispering to themselves.
"My kicking was a total disappointment to me," said Connell, who incurred the wrath of the Mike Bragg fans when he dribbled off a five-yard punt early in the game.
"No, I didn't hear them yelling for Bragg (who was cut in the preseason). I don't listen to things like that," Connell said, laughing. "We (he and center Jeff Bostic) thought we had our timing down but that one bad snap threw me off and I rushed my kick. In looking at the films, I had more time."
When he wasn't rushed, Connell, who beat out long-time Redskin favorite Bragg for the punting job, managed only one decent boot, that one going 38 yards with an eight-yard return.
"Near the end of the game, I began getting the height and the hang time I wanted," he said. "Once that happens, they guy can cover the kicks like a blanket. The confidence comes as you get more opportunities. The kicking will definitely improve. That was just a bad game and you try to forget it as quick as you can."
And, on the whole, the special teams coach, John Hilton, wasn't displeased.
"We had a few people who got confused on the coverage and a couple of the players didn't follow my advice, but overall they played pretty well," said Hilton, who put in extra time with his special teams yesterday at Redskin Park. "We had a chance to get a coupie of big runbacks but missed that last block. Had we made those blocks, we could have beaten Dallas on special teams play alone. I expect them to win again for us."
The player Washington is looking to take the ball the distance on a return is Nelms. The free agent from Baylor gained 19 yards on his only punt return and averaged 18 yards on two kickoffs.
"I've been close all season to breaking one and I came into the Dallas game looking to do that," Nelms said. "When you're that close, its bound to happen. I know the importance of a long long runback."
Nelms, who is returning kickoffs for the first time, said he prefers punts because "it's helter-skelter out there with people going all over the place and you can pick you way upfield.
"On kickoffs, it's like two armies charging at each other when the horn blows," he said. "That's too straight up for me."
The quick reserve safety also enjoys tackling opposing kick returners.
"Either way, I might pull off a big play to give us some momentum," Nelms said.
Momentum is exactly what Redskin Coach Jack Pardee felt was missing in the Dallas Loss.
"We didn't have any consistency on our drives," Pardee said. "We weren't happy at all with our rushing (58 yards) and you can't throw on every down. We averaged 170 yards in the preseason and we have the same blockers and the same backs. We shouldn't go from good to nothing in one week."
Pardee and the offensive coordinator, Joe Walton, have worked extra hard this week on the running game. Pardee said yesterday Wilbur Jackson and Ricky Claitt will "definitely play more Sunday (against the New York Giants)."
"We want to use all of our backs, to keep them fresh," Pardee said. "Right now, Buddy (Hardeman) is limping on that ankle but we think he'll be ready. If not, we still have four good backs to use. I don't have know who will start but it doesn't matter because all of them will play."
Though they haven't been world beaters the last few years, the Giants always have had good special teams. A former member of the Redskins' special teams, Don Harris, now is with the Giants.
"Donny was a good player for us here so I know he'll be looking to pull off some kind of good play against us," Waddy said. "We just have to outhit and outplay them up there. The difference in this game could be the play of the special teams. One good play and it's the Redskins of old."
Hardeman and guard Fred Dean (sprained knee) spent yesterday afternoon jogging on the sidelines. Both are expected to play Sunday. Tight end Don Warren (broken leg) worked out lightly. . . The Redskins brought in tight end Rick Walker for a trial. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound former UCLA player had been with the Cincinnati Bengals the last three years. He was used sparingly last season, catching only one pass, for a touchdown. He was waived earlier this year.