If the Washington Redskins didn't know this already, they learned it Monday night: when the personnel changes and decisions work just right, a football game can be a wondrous thing.

In so many ways, the choices that the Redskins (2-3) made last week touched their 27-10 victory over St. Louis (3-2) and will send them into Sunday's 1 p.m. game with Detroit (3-2) at RFK Stadium brimming with confidence.

"It's a good feeling," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "We have done it."

Viewed as myriad decisions, the St. Louis game proves that shaking up a team can do it some good.

Punter Steve Cox, signed to replace injured Jeff Hayes, pleased the Redskins to no end with his 47.2-yard average and quick release in the face of a steady rush on his four punts.

Although "a couple" of his four kickoffs didn't stretch as far as the Redskins would have liked, Gibbs said, Cox certainly has become every bit the replacement the Redskins wanted and needed for Hayes on the overhauled special teams.

"I thought Steve did a great job," said special teams coach Wayne Sevier. "He hadn't done anything for five weeks (after he was released by Cleveland), and I expect him to get better."

Both he and Gibbs said it's way too early to discuss what will happen when Hayes recovers from a partial tear of the right quadriceps (thigh).

"Jeff's hurt, and I don't think he'll be able to punt and kick off on that muscle for a long time," said Sevier. "We expect it to take more than four weeks (the injured reserve minimum)."

In each of the five games, Gibbs has tried something new on offense: an unbalanced line against Dallas; three tight ends against Houston; the I-formation with Clint Didier blocking against Philadelphia; the revival of the counter-trey block against Chicago, with Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm pulling from the left side; and the four-wideout formation against St. Louis.

That strategy really was part of a package, Gibbs said. The Redskins dabbled in two tight ends and two wide receivers, in three tight ends, and in four wide receivers, which resulted the first time in Art Monk's 19-yard reception on the Redskins' third play of the game.

"We used four wide receivers because we have four good guys there to put into the game," Gibbs said.

There still is a question if Calvin Muhammad, who didn't catch a pass for the second time in the last three games, will be replaced in the starting lineup by Gary Clark, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass Monday.

"Right now, Calvin starts, unless I say differently," Gibbs said.

Muhammad "didn't have that many opportunities when he was in there," Gibbs said.

Clark, "a real producer," according to Gibbs, undoubtedly will play more, even if he does not start.

Gibbs also continues to tread lightly on the John Riggins-George Rogers subject. For the first time, two Redskins backs each gained more than 100 yards rushing in a game, but questions continue to hound these two.

Are they happy? Is Rogers about to replace Riggins as the starter? Will Rogers ever stop fumbling?

In order:

"I doubt if either one of them will be happy," said Gibbs, adding he figured that was normal with platooned players.

Riggins still is the starter and short-yardage back, but Gibbs is wrestling with Riggins' role in "normal down and distance" situations.

Rogers' fumbles really annoy Gibbs, but he doesn't have any miracle cures.

"I don't know if (being) late on in the game has anything to do with it," Gibbs said. "I look at him in the eyes and he doesn't seem to be tired at all."

One other decision has added another strange twist to the saga of rookie linebacker Joe Krakoski, a hard-hitting special teams player waived by the Redskins at Monday's pregame meal to make room for long snapper Doug Barnett, who drove 16 hours from a hunting trip to be at the game.

Krakoski flew home to Fremont, Calif., yesterday after speaking with General Manager Bobby Beathard, Beathard said. The Redskins had hoped to keep him, but decided they had to hold onto Barnett after a good game.

Krakoski now has been on two NFL team payrolls but has not played a regular-season down.

The Houston Oilers drafted him in the sixth round last April and placed him on injured reserve with a lower back problem at the end of preseason in order to keep him, he said.

But Krakoski was not injured, he said.

"They said it was the lower back," he said. "I wasn't injured."

Krakoski said that when league doctors told the Oilers they wanted to check his injury to make sure it existed, he was waived immediately.

Oilers spokesperson Bob Hyde said yesterday the club would not comment on the matter.

"I should write a book about this," Krakoski said.

In the meantime, the Redskins realize winning can be fickle. If things turned around so quickly, they can turn back just as fast.

"In two or three weeks, we can be in a disastrous position," Gibbs said. "If we lose next week, it's right back to: 'You've only won two of the six . . . ' "

Last week, Gibbs and the Redskins also had to deal with harsh words from former Redskins Mark Murphy and Mike Nelms in Washington Post stories.

"It is hard," Gibbs said of the negative comments. "I realize everybody's not going to be happy, and I think any time you have hard times, normally if something is to be said, it will be said at that time. That's human nature."

Guard Ken Huff broke a bone in the tip of his right big toe but is expected to play Sunday, Gibbs said. The injury originally was diagnosed as a bruise.

Cornerback Darrell Green will wear a cast for three or four weeks to recover from a fractured third metacarpal bone in his left hand, Gibbs said, but will play.

Tackle Mark May (hip pointer) and Grimm (sprained knee) also are expected to play Sunday. None of the Redskins' other injuries appears to be serious enough to force the player to miss the Lions game, Gibbs said.