We survive every moment but the last one, John Updike once remarked, and, likewise, the 1-12 Washington Federals will survive their latest, weekly humiliation. They must, since five more weeks remain on the U.S. Football League schedule.

"We play again Friday (in Denver)," said Coach Ray Jauch with a prolonged sigh.

"It's getting harder and harder to say it, but we have to keep getting ready for these games. We have to see if some of these guys can win."

After Dave Betz, playing his first game as a pro, kicked a 50-yard field goal on the final play to give the New Jersey Generals a 32-29 victory over Washington Sunday, the Federals stalked off yet again to the RFK Stadium dressing rooms.

True, Herschel Walker had played brilliantly, rushing for 194 yards, but the Federals' offense had featured an equivalent performance--wide receiver Joey Walters caught 12 passes for 193 yards. In fact, the Federals gained 496 yards. And still they lost.

Seven times the Federals have lost by a touchdown or less, four times by a field goal or less. As he waited for his players to arrive at the stadium for practice yesterday, Jauch watched films of Sunday's game. "Yeah, seven times, so close," he said. "But the season's not over. We still have five more games. Five more chances."

Washington has yet to play the Gold, but of the other teams remaining on the schedule, they already have lost to Arizona, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. They beat Michigan, 22-16, in overtime two months ago for their only victory. But the Panthers are easily the most improved team in the league.

With such gloom hanging over them, it certainly must be considered a possibility that the Federals will finish the season 1-17.

There is no doubt, as Jauch says, that "the team just isn't there yet." But in spite of the dismal record there are a number of players who have great promise: safety Mike Guess, linebacker Mike Corvino, receivers Walters and Mike Holmes, kicker Sandro Vitiello, guard Dave Pacella, punter Dana Moore, backs Billy Taylor, Craig James and Mike Hohensee.

The defense as a whole has suffered, said Jauch, "from overall inconsistency at all positions," and the offensive line is still far from generous in the room it provides James and Taylor. Jauch also said the team lacks a big fullback, a "speed" receiver and a consistent tight end.

"I have concerns in all areas of our football team," Jauch said. "If you're talking about a draft at this point, I guess you talk about defensive players. But I've always felt that you take the best player available. I wouldn't let a good back or quarterback go by if one was available.

"But before the draft we have to think about the players who get released from Canadian camps (in late June) and NFL camps (in August). Even if we don't have the rights to those players we have to have a system to know who's available because we might get the rights eventually. The same thing for the players coming out of college. We have to get a personnel department together right away, and we don't have that now."

The Federals escaped the New Jersey game with only minor injuries: center Tony Loia and defensive back Doug Greene with left knee sprains and tackle Jeff Sevy with a strained left foot . . . Yesterday they signed Leroy Robinson, a free agent offensive tackle from South Carolina State who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles.