The way Joe Theismann saw it, he couldn't.

When Harvey (Too Mean) Martin charges from one side of the line and Ed (Too Tall) Jones soars in from the other, it's Too Much, sort of unfair, when a posse of other Cowboys flies at you from the middle.

"Jones, who is 6-9, is like the Empire State Building," the Redskin quarterback said, "and Martin's like the World Trade Center. Ever try to throw between the twin towers?"

The mauling yesterday was as clean as it was efficient. No obvious bruises from a full-throttle blitz that got Theismann seven times during the 24-10 Dallas victory. The only lingering hurt was an apparent elbow to the helmet by Martin during the return of Theismann's third interception.

When he stayed upright, had time to throw, Theismann was close to being excellent several times; the Cowboys had the cigars. Depending on the vantage point, Theismann and glory were . . .

Thisclose. Or

This close.

"A hair . . . a smidgen," Theismann said.

"A yard in front, a yard behind . . . " Coach Joe Gibbs said.

It was that kind of game. Dallas won by 14 points, but didn't dominate; Tony Dorsett averaged about 75 inches on 26 carries; Randy White had just two tackles; Joe Washington only touched the ball nine times; the crowd got ugly once, when it cheered an injury to Dorsett.

Danny White's run of 20 yards off a fake punt was big, in ways not immediately obvious. Dallas slickered the Redskins a bit in other ways. Such as those blitzes.

The Redskins spent most of the postgame pointing fingers away from each other.

"Wasn't the offensive line's fault," Gibbs said. Then he mumbled: "Getting rid of the ball. That kind of thing."

"Our (pass) plays involve a lot of guys in patterns," Theismann said. "Not too many back (to pick up blitzers)."

White seemed to affirm what Gibbs seemed to be hinting. "Theismann stood back a lot and watched his receivers until the last second," he said, "and we got a lot of traps."

If there were mulligans in football, Theismann would like to have taken two: the pass to Virgil Seay that fell incomplete in the end zone and the pass to Art Monk that fell into Everson Walls' hands.

"Both of them should have been touchdowns," Theismann said. "Both of them were on blitzes. (Middle linebacker Bob) Breunig was moving hard on me (on the Walls interception) and I had to alter my throw. They were in full blitz when I missed Virgil."

Theismann guessed the Cowboys blitzed so often for two reasons: to make sure they knew where he was and because their own cornerbacks are so good.

"Because I roll out," Theismann said, "they could make their ends contain (take outside rushes) and bring on the linebackers. I don't know if that's right; it is logical. To me, it makes sense. And the corners (Walls and Dennis Thurman) are very good. Tough and quick.

"They're gamblers."

In the quarterback game of inches, White won. He only completed two more passes than Theismann, and for 18 fewer yards. When he needed a clutch completion, he got it; Theismann didn't.

"Threw the eyes out of it," Gibbs said of White. He said his own quarterback "gave it all he had."

Theismann's list of other small-miss sins that loom large:

An early pass that should have floated over Dextor Clinkscale but ended in his hands; missing a diving Alvin Garrett on the goal line; underthrowing Monk on the Thurman interception near the end.

"But you also have to be objective in defeat," Theismann said.

So what were the Redskins' positive points?

"We did move the football," he said. "We got 10 points. We had some opportunities."

Then even Theismann drifted into negative territory. He was furious that the closest official did not whistle a sack until he escaped from a second Cowboy and was sailing upfield.

"Think I might even have tripped over my own lineman's feet," he said.

Also, he thought Martin, or whoever tapped his helmet after that final interception, should have been penalized, if not arrested. Otherwise, he sounded the way most quarterbacks do after losing to Dallas:

"Can't make mistakes; can't get in long-yardage situations."

Exactly. Except that one of Theismann's interceptions, by Clinkscale, came on third and five and another, by Walls, came on first and 10. The other major errors came on third and long. The drive Dallas played honest, no-blitz, defense, Theismann produced a touchdown.

"Times I had to hold the football longer than I wanted," he said. "I'd have liked to run (John Riggins and Washington) more. But (blitz) pressure is part of football. And I couldn't think of a time I could have unloaded sooner. They doubled Joe and they doubled Art.

"I went on top (long) because that's what they were giving us. I play percentages, and one-on-one coverage gives you a 50-50 chance."

Down by seven points, Gibbs was playing percentages when he decided to punt on fourth and five from the Redskin 41 with just under four minutes left. Or was he?

Washington's defense had been quite good up to then. It had forced three punting situations, including the fake by White, on the last three Cowboy possessions.

To some, that meant the odds had tilted the Cowboys' way. And when they had to get serious, they did. It got to be 24-10 in a hurry.