Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs has ordered Ali Haji-Sheikh and Jess Atkinson to kick side by side for the next 10 days, and may the best man win.

Gibbs said yesterday he's not mad at Haji-Sheikh for missing two field goal attempts against the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, but that Atkinson is completely recovered from a dislocated left ankle and cannot be ignored.

"I hope we won't get down to counting kicks," Gibbs said. " . . . I'll watch them a little and get a feeling. I'll be able to stand out there and see how they're hitting them."

So, Gibbs will leave his calculator at home, contrary to what he's done with some other duels -- like Mark Moseley vs. Tony Zendejas. If both Atkinson and Haji-Sheikh kick well, Gibbs said: "Well, it'll be the old 'feeling' thing."

Haji-Sheikh could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Atkinson said he and Haji-Sheikh have been through this before.

"When haven't I {been in a kicking duel}?" Atkinson said yesterday. "What I've pretty much learned in this whole business is if you're an all-pro the last 10 years or if you've missed your last six kicks, your next one is the important one."

Haji-Sheikh has made 13 of 19 field goal attempts this year, including game winners against the New York Jets and Minnesota. He's also made 29 of 32 extra point attempts, though the Redskins lost every time he missed one (at Atlanta, at Philadelphia and against the Los Angeles Rams). Still, Gibbs refused to criticize him. For instance, the missed extra point in Atlanta was the result of a bad snap, and a bad hold contributed to a last-second missed field goal in Minnesota.

"We've been unsettled at the kicking spot," Gibbs said. "And Ali has battled his way through that."

Still, Atkinson has Gibbs' confidence for making all seven of his field goal attempts as a Redskin and all eight of his extra points. Atkinson even made the extra point he got hurt on, in this season's opener. The Eagles' Andre Waters ran into him from the blind side, and Atkinson ended up being carried off on a stretcher.

He vowed to return this season, but later came to the conclusion that he was only "an insurance policy." According to trainer Bubba Tyer, Atkinson was healthy enough to be activated three weeks ago, but then felt sore a week later. Even now, he has treatment daily and wears an ankle device as he sleeps to improve his range of motion.

"He's never had a setback with his ankle," Tyer said. "He has steadily progressed."

These side-by-side competitions can be nerve-wracking, except Atkinson said: "I tell you, I don't think it's a huge deal. We kickers have been through it before. It's normal for us."

Atkinson has kicked in only four games for the Redskins, though it seems he's been around here forever. A former Maryland kicker, Atkinson signed with the Redskins in the 16th and final week of last season, and he also kicked in two playoff games.

He said a long layoff won't bother him.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm 100 percent. The difference now with me is it takes me a little longer to warm up, but that suits me fine for games because I normally do a good amount of kicking on the sidelines. I'm meeting the ball really well. I'm real comfortable with the snap and hold."

Atkinson replaced Haji-Sheikh in 1985 when Haji-Sheikh injured his kicking leg as a member of the New York Giants, and now they're intertwined again.

"We kind of follow each other coming and going," Atkinson said. "We're friends."

Atkinson admitted he didn't enjoy watching Redskins games on television this year, not because Haji-Sheikh was kicking but because commentators described every kick as "life and death." Atkinson finally saw how fans perceived field goals and didn't like it.

That's why he says he'd rather be on the field.

Haji-Sheikh wasn't on the field with the rest of the Redskins yesterday. He had come early and done some extra running, and Gibbs excused him to go home.

Gibbs, describing his dilemma, said: "It's not one thing {Haji-Sheikh} did. It's everything you look at. You've got one kicker who kicked for you earlier in the year {Atkinson} and got hurt, so you evaluate what he's done before that and what kind of kicker he was. And now that you've got him back healthy, you've got another kicker {Haji-Sheikh} who's doing a good job for you. He's kicked game winners for us. It's not one thing, but just a culmination of things.

"But, hey, you like to have it this way -- two good kickers."