Joe Theismann was carrying Mike Hegman, piggyback-like, when it happened again -- only worse. A hamstring injury, apparently, sounds as awful as it hurts.

"Last week, it was a pop," he was saying an hour after the game and two hours after his accident. "This time it went 'bam, bam.' Before it went (on a blind-size blitz about a minute before halftime), I'd felt great. I was surprised and very happy at how it had come along."

Theismann was publicly positive about playing against the Falcons in Atlanta next week but another sound made it seem otherwise:

"I hope it responds -- OW -- as well as last week."

With a semicrippled Theismann and a healthy Mike Kruczek at quarterback, the Redskin offense still seemed, well, hamstrung all game here today. Given the sustained horror of the past few weeks, anyone with the slightest compassion could not be severely critical of the 14-10 loss.

The Redskins are lifting themselves by the cleatstraps, trying to play Neanderthal football now so some imaginative football might be possible in future games. Today, they played well enough to lose gracefully, and the Cowboys played indifferently enough to give the Redskins a false sense of hope until the final 80 seconds.

Washington's defense played as heroically as anyone could hope. The usual boulevards that have opened for ordinary runners in prior games were cluttered with numbered roadblocks for a fine back today.

Tony Dorsett had run for more than 180 yards two weeks ago and for more than 120 last week. Against a defense that had made Jim Jodat seem like an all-pro, Dorsett gained just 59 yards today. And lost a critical fumble. In truth, he was reverting to form against the Redskins.

"Give it to Dorsett, give it to him -- he'll fumble it," the Redskins dared Dallas from the sideline in the final hopeless moments today, after an onsides kick was smothered by Charlie Waters.

Six times the Washington defense turned the ball over to the Washington offense, or more than enough for most teams to win most games. But the Redskin offense is just at the creeping stage. It vows to be able to crawl soon, perhaps even walk in a game or so.

Instead of their usual close-to-the-vest attack today, the Redskins went even more conservative. They played inside the pockets. They ran and ran and ran, but they never seemed capable of running into the end zone when the Cowboys really had to stop them.

They were telegraphing their punches more than a dazed boxer. Ike forte's forte, it became screamingly clear, is to run on third down. The only suspense is whether it will be left or right.

But just when Redskin fans were about to go hoarse yelling "Why not pass?" the Redskins answered it -- by passing. Or, more accurately, by trying to pass and getting Theismann and Kruczek buried. The Redskins had a remarkable flair today to get into and out of field-goal range in record time.

Be tough now and you have a chance to be good later, Forte said.

"The Cowboys were saying we couldn't do this and we couldn't do that and that we'd better not run over here any more," Forte said. "Stuff like that. Stuff you can't put in the paper. By the third and fourth quarter, they were starting to shut up.

"That's what you want to do to a team, get it so down it'll get upset. And then try too hard to stop you; and make mistakes. When we win, we'll talk."

Kruczek talked, boldly.

"This team," he said, presumably with himself at quarterback, "is gonna score a lot of points, with no turnovers. And win a lot of games. We set out to control the ball and we did."

"We kicked their butts every way but on the scoreboard," Clarence Harmon said. "And I do mean kicked their butts."

That is vital, Coach Jack Pardee emphasized. What seems like a Doomsday Offense, or at least a one-dimensional, two-tight-ends attack, is a first step toward respect.

"If we're ever going to be a great team," he said, "we're going to have to be a tough team. We have to have pride. Without that ingredient, we have no chance. for the first time in a long time, we were able to get outside, with the tight ends pinching their corners. If you can't get the corners, you can't run."

And if you can't run in the NFL you are doomed.

Also, if you can't put your sock on after one game the chances of playing the next are doubtful. Theismann nearly was unable to do this today, at one point asking some reporters for assistance. He audibled, though, and barely managed it. He had taken a shot moments earlier and had a device that emits electrical impulses to the injured right leg strapped to his waist.

Why not give the leg the rest it needs? somebody wondered. Why not take the smart route?

"Somebody smart would," Theismann said. "But I happen to love this game. I am doing exactly what I want to do in life. And as long as I'm not hurting my team or maiming myself I'm going out and playing. As bad as I felt last week (immediately after the initial injury), I didn't realize how well it would respond.

"I've been pretty lucky over my career. I've been a pretty fast healer. It's something I've gotta see. Today, I couldn't set up, couldn't hand off, couldn't handle the ordinary quarterback functions."

Kruczek could, but he found himself all too often in improvised retreat, with Cowboys grabbing at him from all angles as he reached what was supposed to be a protective pocket.

"Sometimes you concentrate on the rush," Kruzcek admitted, "and you're not able to read the defenses like you'd like to."

A debut against Dallas is not in the dreams of most quarterbacks, even ones who have waited years for the chance to play regularly. The offense was embarrassed it was not able to match the defense today. It hopes for another chance.