They used to call the stadium here "The Mistake on the Lake." Their river once caught on fire because it was so polluted. They had a child-mayor in the '70s nicknamed "Dennis the Menace." And their sports teams were lousy.

Unfortunately for the Washington Redskins, Cleveland isn't like that anymore.

What the Redskins (3-4) really want Sunday at 1 p.m. in Cleveland Stadium is an old-fashioned rout -- something like 42-7 -- to finally turn a mixed-up season Redskin-right-side up.

But, more than likely, they will get nothing of the sort. The Browns of the Bernie Kosar Era (now a glorious three weeks old) are a team close to the Redskins' heart: they run a lot; their defense is very good; and they don't score often.

10-7, anyone?

Cleveland, a 2 1/2-point favorite, no longer is a running joke, and the Browns (4-3) are no longer running pushovers.

Here it is Week 8 of a 16-game season, and the division leader in this game is the Browns, ahead in the AFC Central by a game over Pittsburgh. The Redskins (3-4) are two games behind Dallas (5-2) in the NFC East.

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs would rather not talk about do-or-die football games, especially before Halloween, but it's almost become unavoidable now.

He predicted that an 11-5 record would win the division; the Redskins will have achieved the "5" if they lose Sunday.

"A 3-5 record puts you in real jeopardy," Gibbs said at Redskin Park this week. "This isn't do or die, but it's super important. We've reached a point where we have to play well and win one."

Forget, for a moment, the Browns' crunching linebackers, the lack of a Washington passing game, and the supposed immobility of Kosar (he has been sacked just twice), who won't turn 22 for another month.

The Redskins believe they play their best when they absolutely have to, which is either the mark of a very good team or one that likes to tiptoe dangerously near the brink of total disaster. There has been one must-win won already this season, the 27-10 victory over St. Louis on Oct. 7.

"We've had so much success here that we've basically never felt so much pressure before," cornerback Darrell Green said. "Still, I think we can go out and play relaxed and hard. Each game is a crucial game in my mind."

Each game is an adventure for the Redskins, which is so uncharacteristic of Gibbs' last three seasons here. Perhaps what makes this so is the mushrooming injury list. Making the rounds this afternoon before the team flight:

Defensive lineman Tom Beasley still is listed as doubtful with a strained groin, but will be available if needed, Gibbs said.

Wide receiver Art Monk and tackle Joe Jacoby, both injured last week and unused in the loss to the New York Giants, are fine and will start, Gibbs said.

Center Jeff Bostic (hyperextended right elbow) did not snap all week in practice, but said he nonetheless will snap on all punts and field goals against the Browns. Defensive tackle Darryl Grant is the backup snapper.

This presents an interesting possibility on Redskins' punts. Steve Cox, who has a 41.9-yard average, used to punt in Cleveland, and is remembered by some here for having five punts blocked over three seasons.

The Browns undoubtedly will be rushing him hard, with Bostic's absence from practice well in mind.

There are a couple of other names to keep in mind for this game: Chip Banks, Tom Cousineau, Clay Matthews, Eddie Johnson. They are Cleveland's young linebackers (average age: 27), and they are considered very, very good.

In fact, they and the other seven defensive starters have not allowed an opposing running back to gain 100 yards in 21 consecutive games.

This is not good news for John Riggins and George Rogers. The Redskins have won 21 consecutive games in which a running back has rushed for 100 yards or more, dating to 1981. The Redskins have rushed 30 or more times in 51 of the past 60 games, and have won 44 of those. They've rushed 40 or more times in 27 of the past 60 games, and have won 26 of those.

The 1985 Redskins lead the National Football League with a 166.7-yard rushing average in 35 attempts per game.

The Browns (the seventh-best defense in the NFL) allow opponents an average of 99 yards rushing in 28 attempts per game.

The Redskins have scored 100 points; the Browns have allowed only 108.

The subtitle on this game sounds apropos: "The Hogs vs. The Dogs." In football-speak: Strength vs. strength.

Gibbs grimaces at the thought. "That means we're probably going to have a tough time," he said. "Their statistics show they are excellent against the run and they have great press-corners. They won't give us anything easy."

Will the Browns give the NFC's next-to-worst-rated passing offense anything at all?

"It puts the passing game at a premium," Gibbs said. The long pass, practically nonexistent to date in Washington's offense, seemingly has to work for the Redskins to move the ball well.

In spite of Kosar's heralded presence, the Browns like to run. They are second in the league to the Redskins with a 161.5-yard average. When they do throw, it's likely to be some kind of off-balance, sidearmed pass by Kosar, who has completed just 49 percent but creates instant excitement.

As Cleveland Coach Marty Schottenheimer says: "Bernie has resurrected the jump pass."

Bernie has resurrected Cleveland, city and team, a bit too.