For a gang of gravediggers, for a football-senile quarterback, for a coach as predictable as night following day and for special-teams tacklers who treat runners as untouchable deities, the Redskins did fine last night. Finally, they remembered the game lasts four quarters.

This stunning show was an all-around rout of the sort not seen in what seemed a decade or so. Redskins 27, Cardinals 10.

Ho hum?


For most of two weeks, the Redskins have been analyzed by nearly everyone even slightly familiar with pro football. Sports Illustrated came calling, as did "The NFL Today". You half expected the hot line to jangle over on Pennsylvania Avenue and for Mr. Gorbachev to mutter:

"Vat's wrong with Redskins?"

Actually, it developed, nothing lots of motivation, lots of self-examination, lots of roster switches and, yes, lots of luck couldn't correct.

One of the easiest ways to crawl out of a deep hole is to get a boost by a friend. Last night, one of the largest Redskins, Dean Hamel, provided one of the largest lifts.

The once-proud kickoff guys had been allowing an average of 37.3 yards, but their coach, Wayne Sevier, did not totally lose his perspective.

To most anyone at Redskin Park, he joked that Roy Green was trying to bribe the Cardinals into letting him field kickoffs and swell his already-enormous reputation.

Naturally, there was more tinkering than humor. In all, there were five roster moves since the 45-10 humiliation by the Bears, or one-ninth of the roster, a staggering total this late in the season.

There was a new punter and a new snapper, even a new assassin at what the Redskins call the "kill man" position on kickoffs, Reggie Branch.

Right away he and Hamel started flipping tons of teammates upward from that 1-3 hole by clobbering Stump Mitchell at the St. Louis 16.

Ten seconds into the game, the new-look Redskins had a nicely-familiar ring in RFK Stadium -- the sound of several burgundy-and-gold pads cracking against one.

From that moment on, Washington -- and the nation -- was treated to same-old-Redskins football: a defense causing jitters in an ordinarily poised quarterback; ancient (36) Joe Theismann accounting for three touchdowns and runners bulling forward a boring 48 times.

All of this conspired to lift the Redskins back among the playoff contenders and give the country a decent snooze by ending most of the doubt long before midnight.

It was hard to figure just how one fan took the affair. Before the game, he hung one of the few original signs to appear in the stadium in recent memory:

"When The Redskins Win, My Wife Feels Lovie-Dovie. Thanks for the Rest."

The Redskins were uncommonly brave long before the kickoff, choosing to introduce an offense that had gotten lost on the way to the end all too often.

Everybody got an encouraging roar of approval except Theismann, whose rating of 42 among quarterbacks rated considerable boos. Of the two passers, Theismann statistically was less than half as good as Neil Lomax.

In the same number of games, Lomax had thrown four times as many passes and a third as many interceptions. Last night, Lomax got twisted, and the numbers got reversed.

If Hamel and Branch set the tone, Dexter Manley and his front-four pals kept it clanging. On the first series for St. Louis, Lomax was hurried into one fluttery incompletion, one throwaway and a bad miss of a very open J.T. Smith very long.

Then came the fun.

In addition to new faces, Coach Joe Gibbs offered some new looks: three tight ends on some plays, four wide receivers on others. Malcom Barnwell even was allowed on the field, and caught a pass for 11 yards.

Genius Joe was at his innovative best with the Redskins fourth-and-short on the Cardinals 14 their first possession.

Such situations demand that the diesel, Riggins, stick his hood ornament into a pile near the line of scrimmage and back it enough for the first down. That has been happening for as long as America has been piling up debts. So what happens this magical night?

Theismann plants the ball in Riggins' belly -- and then pulls it away. Sure enough, the Cardinals flock toward the fullback as birds to a large worm.

Far away from the collision of bodies, Theismann -- the scamp -- was trit-trotting with the ball. He could have done hand springs and re-read a chapter or two from his book on quarterbacking and still have scored.

Later, for good measure, Theismann and his receivers returned to the same page on the same plays. The catchers ran right and the pitcher hummed on-target bullets.

When the team was not making its own breaks, the football gods were lending a helpful hand. A Cardinals punt once hopped off the foot of Redskin Stuart Anderson.

The crowd gasped. Than, wonder of wonders, the ball sailed directly into the arms of Vernon Dean. Disaster suddenly became a dream.

With the special teams back in good graces and Theismann and the passing back in sync, Riggins and George Rogers could rip off gobs of yards on the ground and gobs of minutes off the clock. No two runners in Redskins history ever gained more than 100 yards each in a game.

There were times, not too long ago, when two Redskins runners together couldn't muster 100 yards in a month.

All was going extraordinarily well, until a short spell in which Riggins lost the ball, after a 51-yard gain, and Rogers fumbled on back-to-back carries.

A note quickly got scribbled: "Reports of Redskins Return from Football Dead Premature?"

Nah. Hassled and harried, Lomax and his reliever simply passed to a few of their favorite targets: Redskins.