The Washington Redskins won their first preseason game last night, 23-17, over Pittsburgh with a combination of field goals and daring touchdown passes but ran dreadfully low on linebackers when three -- count 'em, three -- were injured during the game.

Middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz sprained his right knee on Pittsburgh's first drive and never returned. He expressed concern about his injury after the game. Coach Joe Gibbs said Olkewicz "pinched a cartilage." Team doctor Charles Jackson said Olkewicz will have X-rays today.

"It hurts you for a while; it's sore. But if that's all it is, it will be about a week {he'll miss}," Gibbs said.

Kurt Gouveia, Olkewicz's replacement, broke his right hand in the second half and left the game. And Ravin Caldwell suffered a mild concussion on the opening kickoff when his helmet fell off and he got hit. (Another linebacker, Anthony Copeland, missed the game entirely with a sprained left knee.)

All that gave the 52,266 spectators at RFK Stadium last night an idea of what has been happening in the Redskins' scrimmages and practices the past two weeks. There have been an awful lot of injuries on this team, and last night was no exception.

In addition to the linebackers, offensive tackle Joe Jacoby suffered a mild sprain of his left ankle; tight end Terry Orr bruised his left shoulder; defensive tackle Dean Hamel suffered a sprain of his left shoulder, and running back Reggie Branch was treated for dehydration.

Gibbs didn't sound all that concerned about the injuries. "I don't think things are real serious injurywise," he said.

Now, on to the game. The Redskins' first-string offense and defense looked quite good, staking the second-stringers to a 16-14 halftime lead.

Quarterback Jay Schroeder completed 11 of the 17 passes he threw for 160 yards and a touchdown (54 yards to Art Monk) in the first half. Doug Williams replaced him in the second half and was eight for 16 for 102 yards, one interception and one touchdown (14 yards to Ricky Sanders). Mark Rypien did not get into the game, except as the holder on extra points and field goals.

The Washington defense performed brilliantly during one second-quarter stretch. On first down, linebacker Rich Milot hung onto the leg of running back Dwight Stone for a six-yard loss. On second down, defensive end Charles Mann sacked quarterback Bubby Brister for a 10-yard loss. On third down, defensive tackle Dave Butz, playing despite suffering a severe migraine headache Thursday, caught running back Walter Abercrombie for a four-yard loss. In three plays, the Redskins defense took 20 yards from the Steelers. It was a series to put in a highlight film, even if this is August.

The Redskins' special teams were every bit as good. Kicker Jess Atkinson made field goals of 27 and 33 yards in the first half and punter Steve Cox, the man with the bionic right leg, kicked a 56-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar by a good five feet as time ran out in the first half. That field goal put the Redskins ahead to stay.

It was the exclamation point at the end of a dramatic second quarter. On a first down with 12 minutes left in the half, Schroeder found Pro Bowl teammate Monk a step or two behind second-year cornerback Chris Sheffield at the Pittsburgh 6-yard line. The ball fell softly into Monk's hands for a 54-yard touchdown pass, and Washington led, 13-7.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Brister threw a bomb on the next play from scrimmage. Rookie Charles Lockett ran past Redskins cornerback Vernon Dean, who appeared to be playing a zone, and was all alone when Brister's pass came into his hands for a 77-yard touchdown. He outran strong safety Alvin Walton and Dean into the end zone for the touchdown at 11:41 of the second quarter, and Pittsburgh again led, 14-13.

"It was pretty even in the first half with all the veterans," Gibbs said. "It took us that long field goal to get the lead. We did some things typical for preseason, good and bad."

The second half belonged to the second string -- and third string, and fourth string. If the quality of play grew shabbier, it also became more intense. There was more on the line than pride. Many of these players were just trying to keep a job another week or two. It was in the second half that the game began to drag. It needed something. Perhaps Babe Laufenberg, the Houdini of previous hot August nights at RFK?

The most stunning play made by a quarterback to save the game last night was by Williams. Running back Rick Badanjek fumbled near midfield early in the fourth quarter and linebacker Gregg Carr picked up the ball and ran down the sideline toward the end zone. The only man in his path was Williams. The 32-year-old quarterback threw himself in front of Carr and tackled him at the 27. Two plays later, Pittsburgh running back Dan Reeder fumbled the ball at the Washington 9 and Washington cornerback Tim Morrison recovered.

One of the Redskins' prize rookies, running back Timmy Smith, fumbled on the team's first third-quarter possession, but redeemed himself with a 14-yard ramble minutes later.

Williams, who entered the game in place of Schroeder at the beginning of the second half, saved two consecutive third downs with a 21-yard pass to Sanders and a four-yard pass to running back Kenny Fells.

Moments later, on first down at the Pittsburgh 14, Williams laid an arcing pass into the corner of the end zone for Sanders, who grabbed it over cornerback Harvey Clayton with 7:01 left in the third quarter.

Max Zendejas kicked the extra point for Washington's 23-14 lead.

The Steelers then drove to a first down at the Washington 9, but running back Chuck Sanders fumbled as he was hit by Morrison and linebacker Monte Coleman. Safety Todd Bowles recovered at the 5, getting the Redskins out of a jam.

Early in the fourth quarter, Williams overthrew Smith and was intercepted by Clayton, who took the ball to the Washington 10. Gary Anderson kicked a 24-yard field goal with 9:34 left to bring the Steelers within 23-17.