SAN DIEGO, JAN. 31 -- On the sidelines, the Washington Redskins defenders said they were astounded by Doug Williams' second-quarter performance tonight. But they also were thoroughly aware that John Elway was completely capable of getting just as hot.

"When we went in to the locker room at halftime {ahead, 35-10}, all we were thinking was how Cleveland got back against Denver in the AFC championship game," said Richie Petitbon, the Redskins defensive coordinator. "They were down 21-3, and you're darned right we reminded them. Elway can kill you if you give him that chance."

Tonight, the Redskins gave him some of those chances in the first quarter when they trailed, 10-0, after the first 15 minutes. But Petitbon said his defenders never deviated from their original game plan -- try to get Elway trapped in a collapsing pocket or, when he scrambles, make him throw on the run and not give him time to set up and plant his feet.

The Redskins also were concerned about their own feet. On the sidelines during the early stages of the game, many defensive players said they changed their cleats from the half-inch variety to three-quarter length to get better traction.

"The field was very slippery and a little damp," said defensive end Charles Mann. "It was real young grass and a lot of the turf kept coming up. So we decided to change shoes. It wasn't that big a deal, but we definitely stopped slipping and sliding out there."

But the Redskins, to a defensive man, also were convinced that their game plan established by Petitbon provided the key to this victory.

"We wanted to put a lot of pressure on Elway," said Petitbon. "And we basically went at him with five guys rushing, and the fifth man was a different guy almost every time. We used Monte {Coleman}, Mel {Kaufman} and sometimes Alvin Walton.

"We also mixed up our coverages quite a bit and we didn't have our ends stunting inside too much. We didn't want to get caught with a defensive end coming from the inside and having Elway scramble outside them for long gains. He got away a couple of times, but we're talking about a great quarterback here. We expected him to hurt us some."

Petitbon also admitted that if a critical call on a fumbled kickoff by Ricky Sanders had given the Broncos the football deep in Redskins territory in the first quarter, his team would have had a difficult time recovering from a possible 13-0 or 17-0 deficit.

"We lose that, we're in real trouble," Petitbon said. "I consider that the biggest play of the game." The Redskins also considered the Denver Broncos first touchdown -- Elway's 56-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel on their first play of the game -- to be somewhat of an aberration.

"We were in a zone," Petitbon said, "and he just busted a big play past Barry {Wilburn}. We did get a little tight right after that, but on their next series, we started to loosen up a little and play a little better defense."

Redskins cornerback Darrell Green said he told Wilburn after the touchdown "to forget that play. I tried to nail that into him the whole way. I told him he's had a great year and that play's over the minute he catches the touchdown. I told him don't talk to me about it, I don't even want to hear it. We didn't discuss it anymore. He concentrated on what he had to do the rest of the game."

Said Wilburn, "They woke me up early, and we buckled down. We wanted to try and muscle them outside. They do a lot of crossing {patterns}, and our design was to stop that and push them outside."

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said he thought his team "was a little bit nervous" at the start. "The guys on the sidelines were saying relax, relax, relax. No, we didn't make any adjustments. We just started to make some plays.

"The first quarter, they totally dominated and we were not able to make a play. I think once we made a big play, then everything went our way."

The Redskins also used Clarence Vaughn on a number of first down plays as an extra linebacker substituting for middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz. "He gives us a lot of flexibility in there on that situation," Petitbon said. "He can cover the tight end, or can rush the passer or he can play in the middle of the field. The kid had a great game. So did Alvin Walton. He seemed to be around the ball all night. He's had a hell of a year."

The Redskins also occasionally utilized what they describe as their "spy package" -- sort of a box and one that involves shadowing a quarterback like Elway to keep him from scrambling downfield.

"We wanted to get five people around Elway all the time," Kaufman said. "We didn't want him to run loose. In certain defenses we had a spy, but if a back stayed in, we hung around the line. I think our pressure may have mixed them up a little bit. I know I lined up at four different spots and a different man had to be responsible for me. That's what we did to keep them wondering where we would be coming from."

Petitbon, the architect of this defense, insisted "we didn't do anything that special. Hell, the Raiders have been doing a lot of this stuff for years."

But the Raiders haven't done it like this for a long time. And now, Petitbon and his defense may well be the model for stopping a man many consider to be the best quarterback in pro football.

"That makes it even more meaningful," said defensive tackle Dave Butz. "We beat the best there was. That's all you can ask."