Most of Washington surely was wondering if Joe Theismann's arm or Jack Pardee's mind had gone limp. In the first 21 minutes against the Eagles today, the Redskins had thrown just five passes. They had tried just one long pass -- and it worked for a 54-yard touchdown.

Why not more?

At about the same instant hordes of Redskin fans were asking just that, the Redskins gave them the answer. They showed us why throwing long consistently is a dreadful idea. From his end zone, Theismann sailed one far downfield, Roynell Young made a stunning interception and returned the ball far enough to set up the touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead.

And victory.

Yes, the lead against the Redskins these days, regardless of when it happens, means success.

The Redskins are desperate for almost anything positive. Today, about the kindest thing Pardee could say about the team was that they didn't quit. But he had not come here expecting much more.

"We worked the whole game," he said after the 24-14 loss. "The fourth quarter (last week) we couldn't stop Seattle. We kept coming today. We didn't expect a drastic turnaround. This isn't a super team or we wouldn't have been 1-3 coming in here."

Still, Pardee let his temper show a bit in public today for the first time this year. He is nearly always calm and rational. But he also has enormous pride and a fierce competitive fire. He is frustrated and embarrassed in equally enormous degrees -- and a half-hour after the game it bubbled out of him.

An assessment of the Eagles?a Philadelphian asked.

"I don't give a damn about the Eagles," Pardee snapped. "I'm worried about the Redskins."

Would John Riggins help?

"If he was here," Pardee said, "he'd probably be hurt. Everybody else is.

I'll talk about the guys that are working. What we have we have . . . we'll be a decent club. I don't know how good -- his voice trailed off and then he offered: "We'll be better."

The problem -- and Pardee knows it better than anyone -- is that one or two injuries to vital players can create the sort of extended downward spiral that spoils whatever preseason goals a team realistically sets for itself. Two tackles and two tight ends being hurt is crippling enough. The trouble magnifies when the backups cannot execute within the rules or the regulars return too soon and suffer the same fate.

And if the blockers don't risk being penalized the quarterback might get injured -- and the offense would be stymied even more. So, by the time the wounded offensive linemen mend, Theismann might be buried near midfield somewhere. Or too weak to throw effectively. Or too gunshy to stay poised in the pocket that precious fraction of a second that means the difference between a completion and a complete breakdown.

"I'll keep going back on the weights," Theismann said, adding: "As long as my shoulders allow it. If I have to take the hits, I'll take 'em. The guys up front are working their hearts out."

And the Redskins are adding new dimensions to one of football's grandest clihes. There are three things that can happen whenever you throw a pass, Darrell Royal or some such run-mad coaching legend once said, and two of them are bad. That seemed simple enough. The good news is that a pass can be complete. The bad news is that it can be incomplete or intercepted.

With the Redskins, there are two more negative possibilities: holding or a quarterback injury. Obsessed with keeping Theismann at least mobile, Redskin blockers grab whatever is likely to grab Theismann. They are the sloppiest football criminals alive. Everybody holds; every Redskin gets caught.

"We need some good big plays," Theismann said.

But how do you get big plays unless you try for a few?

"Sometimes people get the wrong idea about big plays," he said. "By that I mean maybe a great block that turns a screen pass into a big gain, or a great block that turns an off-tackle play into a long run. Or a great catch. Or a punt return that gives us good field position, not a home run every time. You see what happens when you throw long all the time against a very good team."

Back to basics, the Redskins still are determined to remain basically a running team. They need to develop respect for some phase of the offense, as the springboard that helps every other phase work.

But can they run with their best runner ploppped on an easy chair in Kansas each game? Redskin blockers are continually criticized for incompetence -- and this seems proper a good deal of the time. But wouldn't a runner as tough and skilled as Riggins make the offensive line seem better?

O.J. Simpson allowed mediocre blockers to enjoy uncommon -- and perhaps largely undeserved -- glory. Oakland blockers made us believe a herd of ordinary runners were quite good.Perhaps Riggins carried the line -- and the ball -- so much of last year. In the season opener, with nearly everyone healthy, the Redskins still failed to run.

"We played better that last week," Ricky Thompson said. "Sometime we gotta play well enough to win. And we gotta do it pretty quick."

"Breaks (injuries, penalties, etc.) are part of football," Theismann fussed, "but I'm sick and tired of taking the parts I don't like."

At the moment, the Redskin surprise is not that Pardee is starting to show his depression, but that he kept his calm this long.