So this was only the Buffalo Bills the Washington Redskins routed, 41-14, yesterday before 51,513 at RFK Stadium.

Still, the Redskins wondered, can't something special be found in a victory so simple?

The short-range view would say this victory was special to the Redskins (8-5) because it kept them in a three-way tie for first place in the National Football Conference's East Division with Dallas and the New York Giants with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Or, perhaps, it was special because, slightly more than one minute into the game, the Bills (1-12) were punting from their end zone, and one minute into the second quarter they trailed, 24-0. Accurate as ever, Redskins free safety Curtis Jordan said, "The game was close until the kickoff."

Or, perhaps, this game seemed special in that barely anyone seemed to notice that the Redskins' all-pro tackle, Dave Butz, missed his first start in five seasons (he is still in Arlington Hospital with an intestinal virus), or that fullback John Riggins' lower back was so stiff he managed just three first-quarter carries for the game, or that Keith Griffin, Riggins' replacement, had three fumbles as part of his 25 carries for 92 yards.

But the long-range view is this: with the return of all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown from the injured list, the Redskins' passing game now possesses big-play threat in triplicate.

After two months wondering what would happen if they ever got Brown, Art Monk and Calvin Muhammad into a three-wide-receiver formation, yesterday the Redskins found out.

The portrait of the passing game's magnificence ought to be framed with quarterback Joe Theismann's season-best statistics: he completed 26 of 33 passes (79 percent) for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

Muhammad caught four passes for 97 yards, with an acrobatic 52-yarder he plucked off the shoulder pads of cornerback Charles Romes at the Buffalo 29 to set up a touchdown.

Brown played for the first time in nearly two months and caught four passes for 68 yards, remarkable production considering he played only in third-down passing situations. This haul included a 36-yard catch in the fourth quarter when safety Donald Wilson hit Brown so hard the two-time all-pro remained on the ground for several moments. It set up the game's final touchdown.

Brown also caught an 18-yard touchdown pass that built the Redskins' lead to 24-0. Brown, who says he's still not entirely recovered from a stress fracture in his right fibula, ran into the end zone, then knelt to the ground for an instant.

"I prayed thanks to God for getting me back healthy," he said.

Monk has had no mercy for opposing defenses all season. Yesterday, he caught a career-high 11 passes for 104 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass from Theismann for the game's first points.

Monk broke tackle after tackle, and broke Brown's club record of 78 receptions in a season, set last season. Now, Monk has caught 82 passes for 1,111 yards. He's on a 101-catch pace for the season, a total that would tie Charley Hennigan of the 1964 Houston Oilers for the single season record.

"Art's Mr. Steady, Mr. Sensational, Mr. Terrific. He's definitely our most valuable player on offense this year," said Theismann, the league's most valuable player last season.

Everyone is talking about Monk these days, except Monk. Typically, he left the locker room quickly and was unavailable for comment. A team official said Monk will speak with the media today.

In all, Theismann completed 10 passes of 11 yards or longer: five to Monk, three to Brown, two to Muhammad. Furthermore, this trio caught 19 of Theismann's 26 completions for 269 of his 311 yards.

"Theismann was very sharp today," Muhammad said. "He totally took over. He changed some of my routes in the huddle, after he had already called a play. He's never done that before."

Because Buffalo's cornerbacks gave the receivers nearly 10-yard cushions from the line of scrimmage, the Redskins threw many short passes. "With Charlie in there," Muhammad said, "they didn't know who to double-cover."

It's no wonder the Redskins outgained the Bills, 421 yards to 171, and no wonder Buffalo Coach Kay Stephenson said, "I think that they are the best offensive team we have played this year, although it would be tough to choose between the Redskins today and the Miami Dolphins."

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said, "When you've got Art, Calvin and Charlie Brown to look at, it makes you feel great."

Gibbs, astutely, did not get too exuberant about yesterday's victory. Yes, it was the most yards the Redskins had gained since they beat Dallas, 34-14, seven weeks ago and, yes, they scored on five of their six first-half possessions. The only failure came when Mark Moseley's 50-yard field goal attempt drifted wide. Moseley kicked a 51-yarder to end the half at 27-7.

Don't forget, of course, the Bills had yielded 31 points or more in six previous games. They have been allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 60 percent of their passes, the worst defensive percentage in the league. They are the league's meekest visitors, too.

So even when the Redskins' Rick Kane lost a fumble on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, the Bills recovering at the Washington 40 and Joe Ferguson throwing Preston Dennard a 36-yard scoring pass that closed them to 27-14, defensive tackle Darryl Grant was saying, "I don't think they ever, realistically, had a chance to beat us."

Most of all, Gibbs realized the Redskins must play another game in four days, at Minnesota Thursday night. "John (Riggins) not playing today puts a downer on things," Gibbs said.

"John came out today feeling stiff. He said, 'Let me try one series to see if it responds,' and it didn't," Gibbs said. After carrying twice in the Redskins' first series, Riggins re-entered the game only once more: to finish off a drive with a two-yard touchdown. It was Riggins' 106th NFL touchdown, moving him past Don Hutson into third place on the league's all-time list. He trails Lenny Moore (113) and Jim Brown (126).

Asked if Riggins might miss the Minnesota game, Gibbs said, "That's a possibility."

Griffin seemed a bit remorseful over fumbling three times. (How coincidental that he had 25 carries for 92 yards with three fumbles this week and Riggins had 26 carries for 92 yards with three fumbles in the previous week's 16-10 loss in Philadelphia.)

"I guess I'm giving the defense a chance to get the ball," Griffin said. "Coach Gibbs told me, as we were coming out for the second half, 'Keith, hold on to the ball.' "

One of the oddest plays of the game, and the season, occurred on the first play of the fourth quarter. Griffin ran left and fumbled at the Washington 46, where safety Wilson scooped up the ball and ran, apparently not to be caught, towards the Redskins' end zone.

As most players froze, uncertain what was happening, Muhammad shot from the pack and tackled Wilson from behind at the six. Wilson fumbled and Muhammad recovered at the two. The Redskins lost 45 yards, but regained possession.

Gibbs, Griffin and Muhammad all said they heard a referee blow his whistle, signaling the play dead.

"I heard the whistle blow and I thought the ball was dead, but I picked it up, anyhow," Wilson said. "I wasn't really running at full speed, but I began to think I was home free . . . I didn't think anybody would be even close to me."

Had Wilson scored, it would have been 34-21 with a full quarter to play.

As much as anything, this game belonged to the Redskins' defense. The Bills were limited to 171 net yards, the second-fewest the Redskins have allowed this season. Buffalo rushed for just 85 yards on 20 carries.

The Redskins sacked quarterbacks Joe Ferguson and Matt Kofler seven times, giving the defense 55 sacks for the season. That breaks the team record of 53, set back in 1973. Tackle Perry Brooks and blitzing linebacker Rich Milot each had two sacks.

And cornerback Vernon Dean intercepted a pass Ferguson threw from his end zone and returned it 11 yards for the touchdown that gave the Redskins a 34-14 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter -- and left no doubt about the outcome.

In all, Ferguson and Kofler combined to completed just 14 of 34 passes for 147 yards. It was hard to believe that this was the same Buffalo team that beat Dallas, 14-3, last week.

"We're playing as well as we've played," said Jordan. "We're starting to dominate people again."