ATLANTA -- If what happened to the Redskins here Sunday will take a while for most Washingtonians to digest, there may be time. Plenty of it, for the only thing worse than losing to the Falcons today is the likelihood of there being no football tomorrow.

This last Redskins show before pro football might turn ugly -- and silly -- was a case of blurred vision. Never did the team see itself slinking into a strike tied with the Falcons at .500; never did Charles Mann and Anthony Copeland imagine what happened in a moment that illustrated game-long frustration.

Sometime during the one-point defeat, Mann is not quite sure exactly when, they tore after Atlanta quarterback Scott Campbell from opposite ends of a blitz.

Mann and Copeland planned to meet somewhere around poor Campbell's chest, and then leap off the ground in sweaty celebration of a sack. With Campbell in their sights, what they actually hit was . . .

Each other.

"He stepped between us," Mann admitted. "We collided and he completed the pass. Seems like he was doing that all day."

If the Redskins beat themselves with a couple of lousy snaps on special teams, they also were beaten, and rather badly, on defense.

"It seemed like we were not there," said Mann, meaning the Redskins' minds seemed somewhere other than Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. "We were out there, but not out there."

Not out there, in mind and body, was Rich Milot, who was sidelined with an infection that developed in his right elbow late Friday. So the Redskins were reduced to the backup for the backup at middle linebacker, Kurt Gouveia.

Milot's injury was a reason for the defensive problems, but not an excuse. This was Scott Campbell pitching for 271 yards and two touchdowns, not Dan Marino or some other real NFL passer.

Campbell has been a clipboard carrier most of his four-plus NFL seasons, having thrown 18 passes in one-plus years before Sunday. So he must have been close to stunned at the pass plays the Falcons coaches designed.

A good deal of Falcons strategy seemed akin to the Bullets saying to Manute Bol, shortly before tipoff against the Lakers: "We're going to you tonight, big fella. We know you can take it to Kareem down low."

Campbell directed lots of his passes toward the very fast and very reliable Darrell Green. That's Green as in two-time Pro Bowler; Green as in synonym for blanket. Among Redskins defensive backs, you start with Green and drop four notches for number two.

It was surprising that Campbell and the equally unheralded Floyd Dixon took their pass-and-catch act toward Green; it was close to incredible that it mostly worked.

"They did a heck of a job," Green said. "No excuses. {Campbell} placed the ball where it needed to be placed. {Dixon} made the catches {five in all, for 105 yards and a touchdown}. They did what they're capable of; I did not do what I'm capable of.

"How do you put it? He {Campbell} came to the call. Rose to the occasion. The coaches also did a good job picking and choosing. It was smart of them {to go long back-to-back in the game's first series}. I was kinda winded on the second one."

Having been gracious, Green paused and added: "I don't expect this to persist."

Many Redskins figured they lost the game in the first half, by botching two field goal tries and allowing Campbell, Gerald Riggs and their blockers to gain confidence.

"We didn't want them to come out and get a glimmer of light," said Mann. "Riggs not getting 100 yards {for the game} was one of our keys. He's run that well against us in the past.

"So what happens? Riggs gets close to 100 {actually 82, but on just 10 carries} in the first half. If we'd gotten one of those two field goal tries to go in, if we'd gotten the lead at halftime, things might have been different."

Mann was puzzled about the team's "not-there" attitude. Campbell was sacked just once, but a piling-on penalty against Markus Koch made even that a positive for the Falcons.

"You hope every week you can get up," Mann said. "I thought morale was fine this week. Last week {before the victory over the Eagles}, we were not as sharp. This week, we were right on."

Could strike talk have been a factor?

"That's been lingering since we came into training camp. We can't blame that. You don't expect this in a regular season game. Preseason, your head can be somewhere else."

Dexter Manley playing sporadically surely was a factor on defense; a strained back kept Joe Jacoby off the field the entire second half. Maybe the Redskins are wounded enough to make matches against the bad birds of the NFL -- the Eagles, Falcons, Cardinals -- even.

"We've run into two elusive quarterbacks," said Mann, in search of another reason. "Normally, {an end} can get out of his lane occasionally and get away with it. I put on a couple of good moves inside {against Campbell} and he takes off running."

Publicly, the Redskins' line on Campbell was: "We knew he would be poised." Privately, a defender volunteered: "He played over his head."

Not all the Redskins' work was bad. Early in the second quarter, with the score 7-7, the Falcons decided against a field goal on fourth and one at the 14.

This time, the Redskins held their ground. Riggs gained nothing.

"But," said Mann, "We didn't keep the ball but a minute."

Tough at the right times, the Falcons also were gentlemanly in victory.

"He {Atlanta tackler Scott Case} could have body-slammed me hard," said holder Eric Yarber of the failed extra point that may have cost the Redskins overtime. "But he took it easy on me."