The place kicker's nightmare came true for Jess Atkinson of the Redskins yesterday at RFK Stadium. His left ankle was dislocated -- his season left in doubt -- on a controversial fluke play.

In the first quarter, Atkinson's own teammate, Rich Milot, blocked a Philadelphia Eagle, Andre Waters, into the kicker a split second after he'd kicked an extra point to give Washington a 10-0 lead.

A Redskins spokesman estimated that Atkinson, who rolled on the ground in pain and was carried off on a stretcher, would be out "a minimum of four to six weeks." That is both preliminary and possibly optimistic.

Atkinson was taken immediately to Arlington Hospital, where the Redskins team physician, Charles Jackson, operated on the ankle. Neither Jackson nor Atkinson would comment.

"Oh, he won't be back this year. No way," predicted Milot. "Nobody would even ask who'd been out there. That was the worst-looking football injury I've ever seen, except for Joe Theismann's leg. It was comparable. I wanted to throw up. That thing was on my mind the rest of the day."

Steve Cox filled in spectacularly, making three straight extra points and a crucial 40-yard field goal with 5:20 left to play. In addition, Cox did his normal punting and kickoff duties. However, Cox said he preferred not to be asked to duplicate this day's double-duty heroics. "One game, sure," said Cox. "But the season's too long. It's too hard for one guy. There's enough good kickers out there standing around waiting for a job. I hope."

Coach Joe Gibbs expressed the necessity of bringing in another kicker, even if only as a backup. "Right now, we're in a mess everywhere you look," he said. "As for what kickers we'll bring in, I don't know. Nothing's obvious."

"The Eagles' end man {Waters} came around Milot and just rolled completely over Jesse's ankle," said Eric Yarber, who was the placement holder on the play. "I saw the guy rolling under Jess and Jess flying over him screaming.

"As soon as Atkinson hit the ground he was pointing at {Waters}, calling for a penalty. Then, when the ref threw a flag, Jess just yelled, 'It's busted. It's busted.' Atkinson is such a team-oriented player he asked for the penalty first."

Referees then reconsidered and ruled no penalty, saying Milot blocked Waters into Atkinson. In fact, Milot may have hit Waters harder than normal on a play in which his assignment is simply to do a "double bump" -- that is, hit the man inside him with his right forearm, then give a two-handed chuck to delay the rusher.

"I don't think that was a cheap shot," said Milot. "But I'm not saying that Waters isn't a dirty player. You watch that guy; he's always sticking his hand up under people's face masks. He'd just done it to me earlier. That's why I tried to hit him so hard that time.

"Nobody feels worse than I do."

Waters declined comment after the game.

While Jay Schroeder, the regular Redskins holder, was in the locker room getting his sprained right shoulder X-rayed, Yarber, who had never held for a kick in a game in his life, fielded a low snap from Jeff Bostic on one hop. Yarber's recovery was good, but Atkinson was thrown off stride slightly.

Nonetheless, he made the kick -- in his Redskins career he is still perfect: eight for eight on extra points and seven for seven on field goals, including a 27-yarder yesterday.

The fact that officials ruled Waters had been pushed into Atkinson angered Gibbs. "Jess was getting hit late all preseason," said Gibbs. "If guys from the outside even get touched {by a blocker}, they're using it as license to just come down the barrel at the kicker. I think Jess got hit three times by the Rams, twice in Tampa, once by the Steelers.

"I told the refs {last week}, 'They're killin' him.' After he was hurt, I told them, 'Hey, the way you're callin' it, it's fair game on everybody's kicker.'

"We're going to have to change the rules if they aren't willing to make discretionary calls on that," added Gibbs. "You should make it that you can't hit the kicker if it's a close decision at all. I don't know how you'd word it, but that should be the intent of the rule. If anybody needs protecting, it's a kicker up on one leg."

Atkinson made his exodus with gusto. With his leg already in a cast, he sat up on his stretcher, pumping his fist and exhorting his teammates at the top of his lungs as he was carried off the field. "He really motivated us there, giving us the 'come-on-and-do-it-for-me' sign," said Yarber. "At least he motivated me."

Atkinson's specialty was the short- to mid-range kick under pressure -- exactly the sort of kicks that have never suited the titanically long, but sometimes erratic Cox.

"The goal posts look narrow from where I kick -- 50 yards and out. But, believe it or not, they really look thin when it's close -- in the fourth quarter," said Cox. He is now six for 14 in his career, including field goals of 60, 58, 57 and 55 yards. However, he had never before attempted a field goal shorter than 48 yards.

"My first two extra points weren't elevated at all," said Cox. "It was only good blocking that kept them from getting blocked . . . The 40-yarder is the only field goal I've ever kicked in the fourth quarter. That really made me feel like a professional {kicker} instead of a Hail Mary guy. That's a lot different than my usual poke-and-hope kind."

The search for Atkinson's replacement will be difficult and fascinating. "We all liked Mark Moseley," said Milot, speaking of the unemployed ex-Redskins great. "We miss the smell of Brut in here. But, you know, when a guy gets released, he tends to stay released."

"I'm not going to go with somebody I don't have confidence in. To ask Steve to do what he did today . . . that's a lot to ask of one guy," Gibbs said, adding, "Excuse me. I've got an excruciating headache."