The good news, a Redskins aide chirped during a circular cruise around the dressing room, was: "Georgetown's open till 3 a.m." If everybody took the hint, it might have been the first time a football team ever walked into a bar staggering.

Some first step toward history. Chasing the Dolphins of the '70s for consecutive Super Bowl appearances (three), the Redskins got embarrassed yesterday by the Dolphins of the '80s.

Fearless faithful recall that the Redskins also blew their opener -- at home -- to the Cowboys last season and then won 16 of the next 17 tests. But precedent is a flimsy rung to hang a helmet on.

Still, neither is that 35-17 drubbing a harbinger of imminent doom. The pass defense was equally lousy much of last season, and nobody quite like Dan Marino and those Carl Lewis runalikes loom until the only possible rematch, the Super Bowl.

"I wouldn't be telling you to make reservations to Palo Alto if we'd won," fullback John Riggins said, "so I'm not gonna say we'll be home for Christmas because we lost. There's too much of the season to go."

It can start any time now.

"Your body okay?" Vernon Dean said to Dexter Manley. "My mind's not," Manley admitted.

"Just one of 16," Dean reassured. "It all starts Wednesday (with the return to full-scale practice)."

Even hard-eyed realists among the Redskins figured the pass defense, with the return of strong safety Tony Peters, could not be as consistently porous as a year ago.

Hmmmm.

There were customers in orange seats closer than defenders to Mark Duper as he was catching that medium-range sideline pass shortly before halftime. Duper then sped about half the field to complete a 74-yard touchdown.

The ultimate humility might have been the Dolphins' third-team quarterback, Jim Jensen, catching two touchdown passes as a receiver. That or failing to sack Marino even once.

"You'd get off the ball hard," defensive tackle Dave Butz said, "hit and drive your man back. Then you'd look up and the ball was already gone. He's got a real quick release."

Butz paused.

"Very accurate, too, apparently."

Extremely.

"We held 'em pretty good on the run (as had been the pattern throughout the Redskins' 31-of-35 victory binge the last two-plus years). But with that quick release all (an offensive lineman) has to do is stay in front of you and you're screwed." Or awed.

Off balance, Marino can flick the ball 30 yards on a line. With the sort of time his blockers were allowing yesterday, he can play pitch and catch with Duper and Mark Clayton at will. Grampa Don Shula could get open.

The way a cornerback such as Anthony Washington's mind gets scrambled starts this way: Duper drives him upfield, then stops and cuts back for a first-down catch.

That happens often enough for a defense to cheat toward the line. So Duper turns on the afterburners for a long-distance hummer. When a passer gets fail-safe protection, defenders more skilled than Washington get burned.

This being an equal-opportunity column, blame gets lateraled from the defense to the offense to the special teams. Jimmy Smith got the game off shakily with a kickoff return to his eight-yard line when he should have downed the ball deep in the end zone. Later, he got benched for the more reliable yet daring Mike Nelms.

Surely, the offense was as much at fault as the defense, and in equally obvious ways. One expects the secondary to surrender touchdowns -- and that the offense will bail it out.

The prolific gang that scored a league-record 541 points last season could muster just 10 until the final eight minutes; a couple of generally good Joes, Washington and Theismann, turned a reasonably close game into a rout.

The idea on offense is to score, but not always too quickly. Riggins plowing inside the tackles can be the most boring football since Vince Lombardi went that route to the Hall of Fame. But it keeps the Redskins' defensive backs where even they do not mind being, on the sideline.

Trouble is, the smallest errors get magnified. And the large ones, fumbles and interceptions, are nearly impossible to overcome against a hot quarterback and a team that can play pass defense.

"Practice hard is all you can do," Anthony Washington said, reasonably. And be thankful Skeets Nehemiah of the next-up 49ers does not have Duper's hands or Joe Montana anything close to Marino's long-distance flair.

Rarely has Coach Joe Gibbs offered a more succinct postgame analysis, or had to: "Never a factor getting pressure (on the quarterback) or coverage. Really their day all around."

A victory more for finesse than force.

"It wasn't an overly brutal game," Butz volunteered. Except on the scoreboard.

Fans who have not completely blanked the Raiders rout in the Super Bowl from their minds thought yesterday might have been subtitled: Son of Rocket Screen.

That's what Theismann seemed to be throwing toward Joe Washington on third and 10 from the Redskins' 20 early in the fourth quarter.

Instead of some obscure linebacker leaping to fame with an interception for a touchdown, all the Dolphins' Charles Bowser could do was nail Washington for a five-yard loss.

Who knows? With practice the play might get positive yardage by midseason.