The Redskin faithful had been disappointed but not discouraged after the loss to the Cowboys a week earlier; they were crushed yesterday.

"A short season," one of the customers mumbled when the Giant fiasco ended. "Two games, two losses in our division."

Any thoughts, Jack Kent Cooke?

"No," said the owner, moving quickly toward a private room inside RFK Stadium.

By halftime, many fans surely must have felt the heat had gotten to them, that they had meant to watch two NFL teams, even paid dearly for it. But those guys couldn't have been major league. Most everybody in Pete's Passing Parade scores every few seconds; the Redskins and Giants limped off the field after the first 30 minutes tied at 0-0. They were a combined zero for 16 on third-down efficiency.

Joe Theismann felt the heat, again.

"I call for silence," he said, "and when the crowd boos (that), you gotta start wondering. Especially when you're just asking for a little quiet. At home."

The Redskins were quiet. Too quiet to suit Dave Butz.

"Coming in here at halftime, up that tunnel," the massive defensive tackle said, "it was like a morgue. You can't have that. We weren't getting killed, but you couldn't believe how dreary it was."

Coach Joe Gibbs did what Butz and some other players wanted to do -- and thought exactly right -- at halftime: he exploded, or fussed with as much fury as he could muster.

"Very vocal," Butz said.

"That's not his character," Terry Metcalf said. "We put him in that position."

Some Giants put him in an even worse bind.

The man who gives the Redskin offense much of its zest and deception, Joe Washington, limped off the field after the second play from scrimmage with a heel injury that will keep him inactive one to three weeks; John Riggins spent most of the game nursing a thigh bruise; guard Russ Grimm will miss at least a week, as will linebacker Monte Coleman.

Before he learned the severity of those injuries, Butz looked at the exhausted man to his left in the Redskin dressing room and said, wearily: "Gettin' into shape, aren't we, Mat?" Mendenhall nodded at the implication: the defense is spending too much time on the field.

When it works -- and can anybody remember the last time it did?-- the Redskin offense is thrilling. When it fails, there is a rippling effect through the team. If three runs don't produce a first down, at least the clock keeps running; three incomplete passes use just a few seconds.

No sooner than a heaving Butz plops onto the bench after something nearly heroic and, zap, the offense (a) has a completion nullified by a penalty (b) misses an open receiver (c) catches the ball out of bounds. Or sometimes all of the above. And Butz drags himself back once more.

"Our ball possession is really short," Butz said, "Too short. If you're gonna do it, take it down the field a bit. Execute. Don't make it three plays and out. I know things aren't quite right with the offense, that it'll get stronger."

And what the offensive and special-teams sins cause, injuries magnify. An already overworked defense also is ailing.

"It's starting to work on our starters," Butz said. "Monte's hurting and so is Karl (Lorch). It means that (eventually) somebody'll break one on us."

There were other problems, Butz said.

"A little bit of indecision out there defensively," he said. "It stems partly from people sending offensive players in late. We react off that, so we're often late. Two plays today we didn't have a defense. Fortunately, they didn't score. But it was a tremendous risk.

"The Giants caught on. Everybody does. We're late (with substitutions), not quite organized like we should be. We'll get that ironed out, though, and that'll help."

For what seems like months, the Redskins again offered impressive numbers everywhere but the scoreboard. Theismann completed a career-high 27 passes for 318 yards. They gained more than twice as many yards as the Giants. Butz will be stunned by this: Washington ran 10 more plays than New York.

"Can't do enough inside the red again," Clarence Harmon said. In football lingo that means whenever the offense gets near the opposition's 20-yard line. "Worst game I've ever played or been around."

That about says it.

Yes, Theismann also saw Terry Metcalf uncovered on that six-yard pass he hurried, the one that ended with Ricky Thompson carrying a Giant two yards into the end zone for the lone Washington touchdown.

"When Ricky scored," Theismann said, "I winked at Terry and said: 'Maybe next time.' "

Will there be a next time?

Losing Washington is more crippling than it might appear. He caught 10 passes against the Cowboys; he is the one consistent running and receiving threat out of the backfield, the one who can keep a defense unsure of itself. Nobody flies in the NFL with a major wing clipped.

"Everything's still sorta new," Theismann said. "I'm not looking for excuses, but that (Giant 3-4 defense) was a new look. I've got to learn; the receivers have got to learn. But I was comfortable in a much bigger hurry today than last week."

In truth, there is a familiar look to the Redskins. They are losing early in the season, being penalized at a torrid pace and getting slapped with injuries at all the worst places. Gibbs probably will become more conservative for the same reasons the fired staff of last season did: gimmicks are doomed without players who can execute them.