Look, when you're 2-6 you don't take a microscope and go looking at the brush strokes.

The Redskins won, 24-22. The New England Patriots fumbled six times, threw two interceptions and committed nine infractions. Be glad these weren't the Patriots of Lexington and Concord. We'd be Brits yet, paying for Charlie's honeymoon.

But any Redskin victory, in this year of awkward transition, is a masterpiece treasured for the hope it engenders for the RFK faithful.

They hope Joe Washington becomes twins.

They hope Joe Theismann grows that scraggly beard until it reaches his belt.

They hope Joe Gibbs keeps finding ways to win when his best-laid plans go awry.

When the three Joes click, nice things happen for the Redskins. It was third and eight at the New England 13-yard line late in the first quarter. New England led, 6-0, having botched two touchdown chances. Then Joe said to Joe, let's throw it to Joe. The resulting touchdown was, in fact, a masterpiece worth examining.

The first thing Joe Washington, the littlest big man, does on this play is sneak around the right corner of the line. He is 5 feet 9 and 179 pounds. He could sneak through a grammar school playground at recess. Around the line, Washington looks up to see what the left outside linebacker is doing.

The linebacker, Mike Hawkins, 6-2 and 232, held his ground at the eight-yard line, waiting to see what devilish trick Washington had in mind.

Washington's decision was to go inside, not outside, because he knew Hawkins wanted him to go outside. Don't ask how Washington knew it. Great runners have radar built into their face masks. Or something. Anyway, Washington broke to the inside, cutting across the middle.

Hawkins did the only thing a big ol' linebacker can do when Joe Washington sneaks through the schoolyard. Hawkins grabbed the little guy's jersey and held on.

"But Joe was patient," Washington said of Theismann. "He waited until I got loose. We had great protection from the line, so we had time to wait. At first I didn't see Joe, because of all those tall guys between me and him. Then I saw the ball coming."

Theismann didn't see Washington at first, either.

"Philadelphia has a 6-foot-7 receiver," Theismann said. "So do we -- but only when Virgil Seay gets on Joe Washington's shoulders. Actually, I find Joe pretty easy."

That's because Joe Washington usually is the guy all by himself out there. Taking Theismann's soft little pass, delivered with a master's touch, Washington accelerated away from the groping Hawkins and put the Redskins ahead, 7-6.

The operative word there is "accelerated." Quickness is Washington's gift. Maybe alone on this Redskin offense, Washington can make things happen by himself. Just get him the ball anywhere, any way you can. Except for Mike Nelms' punt return, Washington's work figured largely in every Redskin point yesterday.

He moved a pass by Theismann 17 yards to the New England 21, setting up a field goal by Mark Moseley in the third quarter. Late in that quarter, Washington turned another Theismann short pass into a 29-yard gain to the Patriots' 17. That one led to Theismann's act of desperate improvisation that went in the record book as a one-yard touchdown run. More on that in a second.

Of all the problems the Redskins have had, perhaps the most damaging was the sprained ankle that kept Washington out of three games. Any coach's offense seems the work of genius when a little pass over the middle becomes a 13-yard touchdown or a 29-yard big play. Joe Gibbs knows that, and he loves Joe Washington.

"He's a playmaker," said Gibbs. "It's amazing, the way he held onto the ball today (23 runs and catches for 144 yards, with no fumbles). As small as he is, with all those big guys hitting him all day, he did the job perfectly. He's such a great athlete."

It is Gibbs' job to make a winner here. He must do it while the general manager, Bobby Beathard, finds new talent to fill gaping holes in ability. (Beathard traded this year's No. 2 draft pick to get Washington from the Colts.) And right now the Redskins need another Joe Washington, another exceptional runner or catcher capable of extraordinary work.

"That second-round choice . . .," Gibbs said, as if he'd traded a chimpanzee's fingerpainting for a Picasso. "I tell you, there's not a guy I'd rather have."

Joe Washington, laughing: "I wouldn't let Joe Gibbs trade me. This is where Joe Washington wants to be -- in Joe Gibbs' offense. If Joe Gibbs wanted to trade me, I'd be holding onto his leg, saying, 'Please, Coach.' "

Gibbs turned to Washington yesterday when yet another game plan went out the window because of early events. Other times, the Redskins' ineptitude forced Gibbs to order 45 passes a game. This time Rich Caster tore up a knee in the first quarter, causing Gibbs to junk his throw-to-the-tight-ends strategy. As long as Washington is around, though, Gibbs has an optional game plan called Joe-to-Joe-to-Joe.

Theismann tripped the light fantastic himself yesterday. Because John Riggins slipped on a fourth-and-goal call from the Patriots' one-yard line, Theismann kept the ball instead of handing it off. As everybody jumped onto Riggins on the left side, Theismann ran the other way with the ball -- a bootleg, as the coaches call it.

Theismann called it an oh-my-God-what-do-I-do-now. Joe Gibbs called it a reflex action. Others gave credit to, yes, fans of superstition, Theismann's beard, an adornment he has cultivated all week. Now that the Redskins are 1-0 with Theismann's pretty face covered up, what, oh what, will the quarterback do with the razor this week?

"It'll stay on at least another week," Theismann said, stroking the lovely stubble.