Obviously, these people are impostors. They aren't the Washington Redskins. The Washington Redskins wouldn't be 0-4 at this stage of the season. (Did I say 0-4? Of course I meant 1-3. How could I forget that what was behind curtain No. 2, was Houston?) The Washington Redskins wouldn't have scored seven second-half points in four games. Just seven? What are the coaches giving out at halftime? Nembutal? The Washington Redskins wouldn't have the worst ratio of points scored to points allowed, 46-121, in the entire NFL. The Washington Redskins wouldn't have a quarterback who'd already thrown nine interceptions, or special teams yielding a ghastly 37 yards per kickoff return. The only thing special in those numbers is that they are especially bad.

So, who are these guys?

They must be the Washington Redskins' evil twins.

Oh yeah, sure, it happens all the time. Don't you watch TV? There's an evil twin on "All My Children." There was one in the mini-series "Hollywood Wives." And now it looks as if Krystle might be getting an evil twin in "Dynasty."

If you can have one evil twin, why not 45? How difficult would it be for an organized group of evil twins to sneak into the locker room and tie up the real Redskins, then put on their uniforms and go out onto the field and perform like gerbils. (Hi, Berl. Hi, Feds.) The coaches wouldn't know what was happening; coaches never do until the next day when they look at the films.

The Evil Twin Theory.

Boy, I feel good knowing that the mystery is solved.

Now I don't even have to wonder about the other stuff, like why Mark May is saying, "We don't have any genuine leaders," and what a statement like that might imply for the coach and the most senior veterans; like whether the polite alternating of John Riggins and George Rogers isn't beginning to create a kind of psychological undertow here similar to the uncertainty the Danny White-Gary Hogeboom competition causes in Dallas; like what it might portend for this team when it finds itself fourth and one, the very best of circumstances to redefine what the revered credo of "Redskin Football" is all about, and its 1,000-yard, $825,000 fullback, running behind the most celebrated line west of Radio City Music Hall, fails to get the single yard not once, but twice, and on the third try the ball is given not to Riggins or even to Rogers, but to Otis Wonsley, and, meaning no disrespect, what is he doing with the ball in that situation?

But it's moot now. Because we know that the problem is the evil twins. So we don't have to concern ourselves with why, since football coaches always are telling us that you have to be prepared for everything, no coach thought to prepare and train a substitute punter in the event that Jeff Hayes got hurt? Or why Calvin Muhammad has caught one pass for eight yards in the last two games? Or why Malcolm Barnwell hasn't stepped onto the field since catching two passes against Dallas? The Redskins say he is still learning the system. How complex is this system? Who invented it, Wernher von Braun? Do the Redskins still feel that trading Charlie Brown was such a good idea? Brown caught touchdown passes. (And Theismann threw them.) Every seventh catch, he scored. You could look it up.

Luckily, we've got the evil twins to shield us from having to fully examine May's statement about the dearth of leaders, because this isn't something that rest and tape can cure. I tend to distrust words like "chemistry" when they're used as a facile shorthand describing complicated interrelationships. But there seems no avoiding the observation that something is internally wrong with these Redskins. They've foundered against weaker teams, Houston and Philadelphia, and after a succession of stunning incongruities left them down, 14-10, to Chicago, instead of forcibly reversing the momentum, within minutes it was 28-10. I suspect the Redskins of 1982, 1983 and 1984 would've survived the flood with less erosion.

Since the end of last year, the Redskins have dramatically changed the face of their family. Excised are sturdy veterans, acknowledged leaders such as Joe Washington, Tony McGee, Mark Murphy, George Starke and Mike Nelms. Even if you agree with the judgment that their talents had waned, what about their social skills? Surely Joe Gibbs appreciates the positive contributions a respected man can make to a team even if that man is not a great talent; why else would Gibbs have kept Pete Cronan? "A lot of these things (about the absence of certain veterans) are said because of friendships," Bobby Beathard said yesterday. "Teams don't stay the same forever. We can't use that as a reason for what's happened now." But given the demoralizing start, is it irresponsible to suggest that management placed too much stock in talent and not enough in chemistry?

May has identified a leadership vacuum on the Redskins. Apparently the most celebrated stars -- Theismann, Riggins, Dave Butz, Mark Moseley -- are not considered leaders. It's unlikely that any, other than Theismann, ever has tried to be one, and the sad fact is that while his teammates respect Theismann's ability as a quarterback, his rhetoric makes them uncomfortable.

In the absence of players then, it falls on Gibbs to lead, to motivate, to inspire. He has the opportunity to do what the great coaches, the Shulas, the Landrys, the Lombardis have done, to keep their teams, sometimes seemingly by the strength of their wills alone, from sliding down to mediocrity, and in so doing to lay the bricks of legend.