Maybe it wasn't propaganda after all.

Only one day before the rout, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs had said the Dallas Cowboys purposely had played down their talents to give the Redskins a false sense of security. "A propaganda ploy," Gibbs called it.

Perhaps he'll reconsider now. Yesterday, the Redskins defeated the Cowboys, 34-14, before 55,431 at RFK Stadium, thereby claiming sole possession of first place in the NFC East Division, while leaving Tom Landry's fedora flattened under a steamroller of Riggo Drills.

"They looked like the Cowboys," reasoned defensive tackle Darryl Grant, after the Redskins (5-2) had won their fifth straight. "I mean, they were wearing the Cowboys uniforms, regardless of how they played."

"This is the lowest ebb we've had (this season) because we've lost two in a row. (But) we're still 4-3," said Landry, who now has split six games with Gibbs. "It can get worse than this."

It's hard to figure how things could get much worse for these Cowboys, who hadn't lost consecutive games to the Redskins (they also lost, 31-10, in Dallas in Week 15 last season) since the early 1970s.

The numbers were as paralyzing to the senses as was the sight of the fallen 'Pokes appearing dazed and confused, while trailing by 34-7 early in the fourth quarter. That's when reserve quarterback Danny White was asked to create an offense -- some offense, any offense. It's something that starter Gary Hogeboom couldn't do. White led the Cowboys to one late score, but it hardly mattered.

The Redskins' role call of heroes began with fullback John Riggins, who ran for 165 yards on 32 carries, the fourth-highest yardage mark he's ever attained (his high is 185).

A seven-yard run at the end of the first quarter allowed Riggins, 35, to become the fifth player in league history to rush for 10,000 yards in his career. His response? Said Riggins, "They don't give medals for fifth place."

Quarterback Joe Theismann threw for 182 yards and three touchdowns; he's thrown seven scoring passes over the last two weeks. Yesterday's included two, of eight and three yards, to tight end Clint Didier.

Theismann also threw an 80-yard scoring pass to newly acquired wide receiver Calvin Muhammad that all but tore the Cowboys to shreds on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. That was the longest touchdown pass of Theismann's career and made it Redskins, 24-7.

No wonder Theismann and Muhammad spent so much time working alone on the play during practice at Redskin Park the last two weeks. The problem was, Muhammad kept outrunning Theismann's throws. So he cut down his angle and glided a bit yesterday, then cut the heart out of the Cowboys.

The Redskins' defense was equally as dominant. Start with linebacker Monte Coleman, who stepped in front of running back Ron Springs to intercept Hogeboom's pass, then returned it 49 yards for the touchdown that tied the score at 7 with 4:50 left in the first quarter.

"He threw it right to me. Yeah, I was surprised he threw it," said Coleman of the game's most definitive turning point. Once Coleman stepped into the end zone, the Redskins took over.

Also, the Redskins' defensive line mauled and manipulated the Cowboys' offensive line, which has three players who weren't regular starters last season. Even without injured defensive end Dexter Manley, who missed the first game of his career, the Redskins had three sacks and limited the Cowboys to 90 yards rushing.

Tony Dorsett, who ran for a 29-yard touchdown for the game's first score, finished with 81 yards on 18 carries. Make that 10 consecutive games he has been held to fewer than 100 yards.

Once again, all-pro defensive tackle Dave Butz saved his best for the Cowboys. Butz had three sacks in that 31-10 victory and yesterday had one sack and was credited with five tackles. Afterward he said, "They didn't even block me." Actually, Dorsett ran through a hole created by Butz's overpursuit and a sly center block to his 29-yard score. Butz retaliated, though.

The 6-foot-7, 295-pound defensive tackle later gave Dorsett a bearhug tackle behind the line of scrimmage. "Tony ran right into me. I said to myself, 'Oh heck, I could move, but why should I?' At first, I thought he was my (7-year-old) son."

And even linebacker Rich Milot, who hadn't played in a game since having a bone chip removed from his elbow nearly three weeks ago, intercepted two passes. When a teammate offered a high-five to Milot after his second interception, Milot merely flapped his elbow. And laughed. It was that kind of game.

"Today was a day where everything went right for us," Gibbs said. "Basically, the strength of our team has been the offensive and defensive lines."

"If you would have told me 34-14 yesterday," said free safety Curtis Jordan, "I'd have said you were dreaming."

So now the Redskins have equalled their 5-2 start of last season, when they roared off into a league-best 14-2 regular-season sunset. At this time last year, though, the Redskins had just lost a 48-47 game at Green Bay and their whole defense seemed to be in tatters.

The fact is, the defense seemed to be in tatters at the outset of yesterday's game, too. The Cowboys drove 81 yards in six plays as Dorsett ran for 41 of those yards, including the final 29. RFK was silent, for the moment.

"I myself was shocked at the way they went downfield on their first drive," Gibbs said. Several Redskins defenders said they felt they were too anxious and too excited and proceeded to overextend themselves during this drive.

Said linebacker Coleman, "They moved the ball like we weren't even there."

"You should have seen the guys in the locker room before the game," said defensive end Tony McGee. "Everybody's eyes were real wide."

But the game turned out to be much like this Redskins' season: a frightening start, then a quick recovery. Because the defensive line created great pressure, the Redskins did not have to blitz often, which keeps their defensive backs out of vulnerable man-to-man coverages.

This also was the most complete game of the season for the offense, which outgained the Cowboys, 423 yards to 359. Both the Redskins' passing game and the running game seemed in spit-shine sync.

At Dallas late last year, the Redskins had added three wide receivers to keep the Cowboys' safeties away from the running game. "We did something similar today," said Theismann. "(Middle linebacker Bob) Breunig and the strong safety (Dextor Clinkscale) will probably be the Cowboys' leading tacklers by the end of the season. We just put Clint Didier way out there, we put Art (Monk) out there and Calvin (Muhammad) is on the other side. Their defense has to make a decision: either double-cover the wide receiver or support the run. They can't do both. I think the credit should go to Coach Gibbs. It was a great game plan."

Riggins was at his bullish best. He has run for 705 yards in seven games this year, which isn't bad when you consider he's merely the oldest running back in the league, with a bad back to boot.

"John ran as good today as I've ever seen him run," said all-pro left guard Russ Grimm. "I think he was in the form he was in during the playoffs two years ago."

Across the way, the Cowboys were down, but not out. "It doesn't make you feel good at all, but you can't play the season for the Redskins," said cornerback Everson Walls. "You have to look at other teams and now we have to streak."

Landry said, "You've got to streak in this business to make the playoffs. Washington's won five in a row."

"I don't think Dallas was as bad as they looked," said linebacker Mel Kaufman. "We just played damned good."