You half expected to see a white flag fluttering in the breeze at Redskin Park yesterday.

"We're hurting," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "I'm hurting."

The Chicago Bears put a 45-10 whammy on the Redskins Sunday at Soldier Field to drop Washington's record to 1-3. A reporter mentioned the 0-5 start in 1981 and Gibbs said, "That was brutal." His voice trailed off with, ". . . this is, too."

Worse yet, it's likely that guard R.C. Thielemann, the former Atlanta all-pro, might require surgery on the knee he injured Sunday in his first start for the Redskins. If so, he will be placed on injured reserve a minimum of four weeks and the starter will be Ken Huff, again.

Gibbs was yet full of resolve in his late-afternoon press conference. He said he's heard 100 reasons already why his team is losing, why his passing attack has disappeared, why his team, which scored a league-record 541 points two years ago, has but 46 points this year.

That's the same amount of points scored by Buffalo, better than only Philadelphia.

"Of course, that's shocking," General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "Are you kidding?"

Gibbs faced the cameras and note pads and said, "You could write an article that says Theismann is over the hill, Gibbs is over the hill, the team is too old, they've changed too many parts, these guys are gone, it's overconfidence, it's underconfidence, they are playing scared, they are playing . . . you name it. And it would all make sense.

"But I'm convinced it's not any one thing . . . We're searching for a formula. How much to run, how much to pass. Sometimes you change so much you have to pass."

Is it possible, a reporter inquired, that the Redskins just aren't as good as they used to be? Without pause, Gibbs said, "That's one of the 100 (reasons)."

Two years ago, fullback John Riggins threw a sickly pass and a day later even Gibbs laughed about it in the press conference. Of course, the Redskins had won.

Asked if he could take a step back now and see anything funny about Joe Theismann's one-yard punt Sunday, Gibbs was stone-faced and said, "No, I can't laugh at it. Strange to you, but it wasn't funny to me."

There was additional confusion for the Redskins. After Sunday's loss, Beathard had said the team had a verbal agreement on a contract with former Bears punter Dave Finzer. He would replace Jeff Hayes, out two to six weeks with a partially torn quadriceps (thigh muscle) and expected to go on injured reserve shortly.

Yesterday, Beathard said Finzer backed out and signed with Seattle.

"Dave told me that he didn't want to do kickoffs (along with punting) and that he felt more comfortable with Seattle," Beathard said.

So the new Redskins punter will be Steve Cox, a fifth-year player cut this season by Cleveland, Beathard said. Cox is noted for his deep kickoffs and occasional long field goals as a straight-on place kicker. Cox averaged 43.4 yards per punt last year, three yards more than Finzer, four more than Hayes.

It's possible there will be more roster changes made this week, too, with preparations beginning today for St. Louis' Monday night visit to RFK Stadium. If Thielemann must go on injured reserve, Beathard said his replacement might not be an offensive lineman.

The Redskins have considered re-signing cornerback Kevin Williams and running back Reggie Branch, two players they cut during the preseason who might help on special teams. Wayne Sevier, special teams coach, said personnel changes will be made on the kickoff coverage unit.

"Our veterans aren't playing the way they should (on kick coverage)," said Sevier. "Our young guys will make mistakes, but their aggressiveness should make up for some of the mistakes and it hasn't."

"I'm more or less in favor of redoing the whole thing," Gibbs said of the coverage team that is allowing an unconscionable 37 yards per return on 10 kickoffs. "I want to take a long, hard look. We've had enough problems where it's not an accident."

Gibbs also admitted that, yes, maybe you can blame him for the fact that when Hayes suffered an injury in the second quarter, there was no one to replace him who had practiced more than just a handful of punts during training camp.

Theismann punted first and shanked a one-yarder. Reserve quarterback Jay Schroeder tried next and hit a 22-yarder that led to a Chicago score. Schroeder punted well in the second half. By then it was academic.

"I wouldn't have visualized it happening," Gibbs said of Hayes' injury. He added that, in the back of his mind, he had hoped that in a pinch Theismann or Schroeder "might be able to bail us out."

Of course, Gibbs added that more time will be spent in developing a reserve punter in the future.

A check of the depth charts of the 28 NFL teams shows that many don't list a backup punter and several others list their place kickers as reserve punters, even though some have never punted before. Redskins kicker Mark Moseley is not a punter.

Gibbs said he feels the running game is "the best it's ever been." He said wide receiver Malcolm Barnwell, acquired for a second-round draft choice from the Raiders but not used at all over the last two weeks, "will play more when he moves up past the No. 4 receiver."

Some observers have wondered how a receiver who caught 45 passes for an explosive 18.9-yard average with the Raiders last season now sits on the bench behind Calvin Muhammad and Gary Clark even as Gibbs admits, "offensively, we haven't gotten the big play."

Nor does Gibbs think the Redskins miss Charlie Brown, who was traded to Atlanta prior to this season and has caught 14 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown in the Falcons' 0-4 start.

"Our passing game was productive last year and Charlie Brown wasn't playing then," Gibbs said pointedly. Brown missed seven games injured last year and caught only 18 passes. However, he caught a remarkable 19 touchdown passes in his 33-game Redskins regular-season career.

"Honestly, two things have been problems: our passing game and our special teams," Beathard said. "Until we get them straightened out, we won't beat good teams."

"We can't keep saying 'In the past,' " said cornerback Vernon Dean. "We can't say, 'In the past, we would have done it.' We have to get it done now. Everybody is in a state of shock. It's just something we have to fight through."