The New York Jets, one of the teams split most during the NFL players strike, put on a surprising display of social and occupational unity against the Washington Redskins for 52 minutes yesterday at RFK Stadium.

However, the way things fell apart in the last eight minutes of Washington's 17-16 last-minute victory, right down to two questionable decisions by Jets Coach Joe Walton, might have a much more far-reaching effect on whether the Jets will be the AFC contenders they were before the strike.

New York blew a 16-7 lead by using a conservative offense and breaking down defensively in the final quarter. And, in the game's last 10 seconds, it seemed the Jets just went a bit wild.

On second and 10 from the New York 45 with no timeouts remaining, Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien threw into the end zone for Al Toon, rather than trying a sideline pass to set up a long, but makeable, field goal attempt. The bomb failed.

Then, with three seconds remaining, Walton sent out kicker Pat Leahy. He missed badly on the 62-yard potential game-winner.

"On the next to last play, they {the Redskins} were playing for the out balls, so that is why we went long," said Walton. "We wanted to give Leahy a shot at it in the end because he's kicked some long ones for us before."

Leahy, a 14-year veteran, said he has made field goals in practice from as far as 70 yards "with a hurricane to my back."

The kick, which was straight but at least 10 yards short, left the Jets, 2-0 before the walkout, at 3-3 overall.

The Jets wanted to paint a picture of harmony after the game, although last week their returning regulars forced the club to segregate the 15 replacement players it retained in a locker room facility normally reserved for racquetball players.

"Once the game started, we realized we needed each other to pull together," said defensive end Marty Lyons, who crossed the picket line early during the strike. "The Redskins just caught us in the wrong defenses at the wrong times and hit us with the right plays."

The Jets never adjusted to Kelvin Bryant joining the Washington backfield after he sat out most of the first three quarters with a slightly pulled hamstring. Jay Schroeder threw a 15-yard swing pass and a 39-yarder down the middle to Bryant on a 61-yard drive that cut New York's lead to 16-14 with 5:55 left.

Bryant ended the drive with a two-yard touchdown catch, easily beating linebacker Bob Crable.

New York had only four running plays for more than five yards and converted only one of 14 third-down situations. Yet, when it needed to make a few first downs to hold onto the ball, New York tried running up the middle and throwing swing passes. The Jets had a chance to get in the end zone, but settled for a 21-yard field goal after a swing pass to Freeman McNeil on third and six at the Washington 8 was subdued.

"We were hoping that play would score," insisted Walton. "Nothing is safe in this league. We did some things I thought were pretty good; just not enough of them."

After Bryant's touchdown, New York found itself with a third and 19 at Washington's 42 -- and O'Brien dumped a pass to Johnny Hector out of the backfield. It went for no gain.

The Jets must now see if this game created any gains toward uniting its players.

During the strike, teammates spit on Jets former all-pro defensive end Mark Gastineau as he reported to practice.

New York sorely could have used the Gastineau of old to pressure Schroeder late in the game, but Gastineau played sparingly. He was used only on obvious passing downs and was not in on even one tackle. The Jets did not sack Schroeder.

Gastineau's presence, or lack of it, was just as noticeable in the locker room. He elected not to dress with the team and stayed in the areas off-limits to the press.

Lyons acknowledged that, when it comes to Gastineau, problems still exist among many Jets.

"It will take time to heal a lot of the scars," said Lyons, "He made his decision and I made mine. We will have to live with them."