The situation was critical. Just how critical could be seen in the Redskins' defensive huddle, by the way the usually cerebral Curtis Jordan was turning into a babbling High School Harry.

"First time I've ever seen him get that excited," said Rich Milot. "He was like a little kid, hoppin' up and down and screaming: 'We can do it! We can do it!' "

What hinged on the next few plays was this: The game. The playoffs.

If there is a postseason for them, the Redskins will thank, in order: Commissioner Pete Rozelle, for parity, and their own defense. Crazy Curtis and his pals have saved the offense and the special teams more often than they deserved much of the season.

"We knew we could make that stand," Jordan said of the most recent one, a first and goal for the Eagles from the five with just under three minutes left yesterday and Washington ahead by five.

"That's the kind of situation you play for," Jordan said. "That's what makes this game so much fun. It's why you're out there."

The Redskins could not have been much more effective had they tapped the Eagles' headsets. The anatomy of a goal-line stand begins with linebacker Mel Kaufman being in splendid position for an interception and muffing the catch.

Second down: The Eagles create what they hope will be a mismatch, their 225-pound Michael Haddix with the ball and a full head of steam against Washington's 170-pound Darrell Green.

"I hate that," Green admitted, "because (with a swing pass) he's also got a lot of room to maneuver."

Green smiled.

"Those are the worst kinds of plays for a big guy like me."

He "got under" Haddix and flipped him at the two.

Without a great deal of notice, linebacker Milot has played very well of late. The next two plays were stunning enough to stir even the most casual fan.

Third down: The Redskins are in what they call a "44" defense, from which they sometimes blitz and sometimes play loose.

This time they blitzed.

"Timing is important," Milot said. "They were running a man in motion, and he can do that only so long (to make an effective block). You move when you sense it's right."

Milot's move was merely perfect. Happily for him, there was not an Eagle in his straight-ahead charge toward Herman Hunter. The play may have lost a few inches.

Fourth down: Having failed twice on runs, the Eagles choose to pass again. Once more, Milot sifts the probable from the possible just before the snap.

"We were in man to man," he said, "and my man didn't come out (of the backfield). I stayed back and tried to read the quarterback's eyes.

"He sorta scanned. I happened to be on that side of the field (where Ron Jaworski looked last). I knew the trajectory had to be low (because anything very high would sail well beyond any receiver and out of the end zone)."

Milot waved his left hand, and Jaworski's pass hit it. Bull's-eye. In an instant, his excitement was more giddy than Jordan's had been. High-fives were exchanged. In his celebration, Milot even stumbled to the turf.

For good measure, Jordan intercepted Jaworski with less than 20 seconds left.

"It seemed as though everyone was having a good time most of the game," Milot said. "We could have been tight, but we weren't. We've been having a good year defensively.

"We want to finish high."

He meant for that to be taken two ways: for the defense to be rated high statistically and for the team to crawl past any playoff contender that stumbles back its way.

So generous was the defense yesterday that it let the special teams borrow cornerback Green in a pinch. When Ken Jenkins suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, it was a tossup whether Green or regular wide receiver Gary Clark would return punts.

"I took the first one," said Green, "and it worked so well, the guys told me to go ahead and take them all."

Well, that first return did work and it didn't. Green took the ball 89 yards into the end zone, but knew soon that he was running for the exercise.

"I saw the flag as I was flying by," he said, referring to the illegal-block penalty that cost him the touchdown. "I sensed it would be called back but ran it in anyway, just in case.

"I hadn't followed the punt-return team all that much during the week, but it looks like I will now. It's fun only on a day like today.

"I'm not saying I would be happy to do that (on a regular basis). But if they say do it, I'll do it."

Clark was listed as the No. 2 punt returner. After watching Green on that 89-yarder that failed and a later zigzag return of 20 yards, he is willing to relinquish the position.

"You need something to happen on punt returns," Clark said. "With him, anything can happen. He's got great speed, he's got great quickness.

"Here's how it is: He may go all the way when there's no blocking, there's a great chance he'll go all the way with some blocking, and when he gets great blocking, it's Katie bar the door.

"That's the difference between him and me."

Coach Joe Gibbs has not done it exactly this way, but when matters get most tense, he all but faces the defense and yells: "Help!"

Darrell, expect it a few more times.