If the sad, slow strains of a nine-week-old, 44-14 loss no longer are loud enough to ring in defenders' ears, the refrain from the opponent's locker room certainly still comes in loud and clear.

"If we'd have hit a couple (passes) in the second half -- and I was very close -- we might have won 64-14."

That was Dallas quarterback Danny White talking on Sept. 9, the night the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins to open the 1985 season.

"What did we have, six interceptions? They get the ball in our territory and they score touchdowns, that's 42 points right there. They had 44 points, so you don't have to have very much offense when you're put in great situations."

That was Washington defensive end Charles Mann talking on Nov. 7, three days before the Redskins (5-4) play the Cowboys (6-3) again, this time at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium.

The story of the Redskins' defense in 1985 is best told in turnovers. In the first four games (three losses, one victory), the Redskins made 15 and got just three for a minus-12 total.

In the last five (four victories, one loss), the Redskins have made only seven and have taken 18 for a plus-11, or an overall minus-one for the season.

It's not that the defense (ranked fifth in the league) ever played poorly, because it really didn't. It's just that, early in the season, it didn't make its own breaks.

Now that it has, and Dallas Week is here again, isn't it fitting that the Redskins are saying the way to beat the Cowboys is by stealing the football?

"We've got to have at least four or five turnovers to win the game," said free safety Curtis Jordan, who has had three interceptions for 52 yards in returns this season.

"I think it's going to be a defensive game," he said. "Now, as sure as I say that, it'll be 42-38, but I do think it's going to be one of those defensive struggles."

Not coincidentally, the turnover turnaround began when the coaches made a major shift in strategy after the 45-10 loss to Chicago Sept. 29. Instead of shooting gaps and filling holes, it was decided the Redskins would run straight at their opponents on the line; just man-to-man, basic defense.

"You whip the man in front of you, you win," Mann explained. "He whips you, he wins."

Isn't football simple?

But the Cowboys, ranked second in the NFL to San Diego in total offense and third in passing offense, don't look at this game quite that way.

"They throw you all their schemes, their traps and influence blocking and all," said rookie right defensive tackle Dean Hamel, who had three sacks and 13 tackles (the most by a Washington defensive lineman this season) last week in his first professional start.

Coach Joe Gibbs knows the Cowboys will work on Hamel.

Hamel knows it, too. "They're not like us, coming right at you," Hamel said. "They'll try to fool me." He said Atlanta did the same thing, but we all know Atlanta is not Dallas.

The best way to play a trapping offensive line is to wait and watch a play develop, Hamel said, but that tends to negate his speed and power off the ball, which he says is his "best thing."

Another rookie certain to be tested is nickel back Barry Wilburn, who was beaten by Dallas's Mike Renfro for a 55-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half of the opener.

Wilburn smiles about the play now. "I learned my lesson in front of the world," he said.

He has played very well since. So well, in fact, that when asked if the Cowboys would pick on Wilburn, assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon answered, "I hope they do."

It's not particularly a game of revenge, yet White's words linger for Washington's defense.

"I heard about that," Mann said of the 64-14 comment. "That day, they probably could have done that.

"But I'll file that back in my mind, and when I have the opportunity to (sack) him, or do whatever I can, that will flash in my mind."

The injury of the day at Redskin Park was a twisted left ankle.

Hamel watched most of practice after twisting his ankle, although he is not expected to miss any work today, Gibbs said. Tom Beasley filled in for him at right defensive tackle.

Left offensive tackle Dan McQuaid hobbled off the field late in practice, also with a twisted ankle. As a precaution, the ankle was iced, Gibbs said.

"It doesn't even hurt anymore," McQuaid said as he left the field. He also is expected to practice as usual today.

Left tackle Joe Jacoby (sprained right knee) said he is setting no timetable for his return to practice. Jacoby has missed games with the New York Giants and Atlanta and most of the game at Cleveland.

He will not play Sunday and, every day he misses practice, it becomes more likely he will not play against the Giants Nov. 18 at RFK Stadium.

Linebacker Monte Coleman (strained right hamstring) continued to look good at practice and all indications are he will be activated off injured reserve by Saturday.

Guard R.C. Thielemann (torn ligament in his right knee) practiced on a blocking sled with assistant trainer Keoki Kamau. Thielemann, injured against Chicago, said he will return to practice today . . .

Elements of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry sometimes seem to extend beyond the field. Dallas reserve running back James Jones' Mercedes was damaged Tuesday when it was hit by a pickup truck as he turned into the parking lot at the Cowboys' training site.

Although the truck hit the driver's side of his car, Jones suffered only a sore neck and is expected to play Sunday.

Last week, Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley totaled his Ford Bronco when he ran into a 16-wheel tractor-trailer in front of Redskin Park.